One of the most anticipated, and scrutinized, speeches a Kansas governor delivers happens each January in the State of the State address.
At one point, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback didn’t think he would get a final opportunity in 2018 to address the Legislature. An appointment from the Trump administration to be ambassador at large for International Religious Freedoms figured to prompt Brownback to leave early from his second term as governor.
With that nomination still pending, however, Brownback still governs. Consequently, he accepted the opportunity to share in achievements he contends happened since taking over as the state’s top elected official in 2011.
Kansas Fact Meter gauged assertions made by Brownback in what will be the two-term governor’s final State of the State message.
The results were about as expected, not only for Brownback, but virtually any politician. Many of his claims were actually judged to be totally accurate, though some of those were simply factual comments affirming the construction of a dry milk plant in Garden City, the establishment of the National Soccer Training Center in Kansas City, Kan., and the unveiling of a medical education building at the University of Kansas Medical Center.
Among achievements Brownback cited, one of the more significant was the “lowest unemployment rate we’ve seen since 2000.’’
Indeed, in November, the number of Kansans with jobs was 1,435,126, passing a previous benchmark established in September 2008. In addition, the state’s unemployment rate for November was 3.5 percent, which nearly approached the 3.4 percent rate recorded in January and February 2000.
Of course, numbers do not always reflect the complete depiction of subject matter. In terms of jobs, not only does employment matter, but so do earnings, an item left out by Brownback in his far-reaching address.
Strides were also cited in the state’s infant mortality rate, which Brownback correctly noted had dropped to 5.9 deaths per 1,000 births in 2015 and ’16 following a rate of 6.3 deaths per 1,000 births in 2014.
Nonetheless, the numbers did not reflect the disproportionate death rate for black infants, which is nearly three times higher than the mortality rate for white or Hispanic infants.
Sometimes the facts are not all there, though any left out of the State of the State speech Brownback delivered made it no different than similar speeches given by other Kansas governors.
The most startling proposal from Brownback was his budget recommendation calling for an additional $600 million in school finance over the next five years. That figure, coupled with no plan of attack on how to facilitate such funding, was panned by leaders with Brownback’s own party.
Yet he was correct to stipulate, quite simply, that school finance will indeed be the biggest issue the Legislature confronts this session.
Early in his speech, after initially assessing what he found to be positive developments in Kansas, Brownback mentioned the state is “full of beauty and wonder.’’
Kansas Fact Meter did not evaluate that assertion, in part because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The wonder could be what our state will look like now that the Brownback administration is coming to a close.