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SPOTLIGHT
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Tight-lipped gov masters the 'no comment'

Published on -4/30/2013, 10:55 AM

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After years covering the Statehouse, you learn that sometimes what's not said is as important as what is said in politics and state government.

Because much of conventional journalism is getting quotes from authority figures on topics of interest to news consumers, you learn to essentially fly-fish at news conferences, dangling briefly a phrase or concept that you want the authority figure to respond to.

It's fishing, to be sure, and it's also a near-daily test of how quickly that authority figure can respond, or respond interestingly, to questions to that we figure the general public would like to know the answer.

So far, Gov. Sam Brownback has been tough to hook. Especially when it comes to budget and tax issues.

Asked whether he intends to use the full $60 million in savings projected next fiscal year for so-called "caseloads" -- which is Statehouse jargon for a wide range of social service programs -- the governor doesn't bite. At a press conference, there was just no answer, though he did mention that some of the money appropriated for social services might be spent to reduce the number of Kansans awaiting state-financed health care.

After a discussion about higher and technical education funding during his so-called "sales tax tour" of state colleges and universities to campaign for his budget which doesn't cut higher education funding, he won't talk about the share of the $260 million that continuing the penny sales tax would make available for higher education and technical schools.

The House has cut about $40 million from the governor's budget for that education spending, the Senate about $20 million. The difference between either number and $260 million? He's not talking ...

But, he does tend to talk up technical training and what appears to be generally white-collar college courses of study. With Brownback's clear bias toward studies that will yield job skills, he's also careful not to get too specific about what might be economically questionable fields of study.

"Do we have all the political science graduates we need?" he was asked to see whether he'd take the bait and say we're probably awash in those students. No answer ... except that there might be enough journalism students.

When he signed the state's new wide-ranging abortion bill that prohibits any state funding or any state tax deductions for abortion and incidentally declares that in Kansas, life begins at fertilization of a human egg, he just laughed and deferred the new tax policy question that life-at-fertilization raises.

That question? "If the pregnancy test strip turns blue (indicating pregnancy), can you staple it to your Kansas income tax return and get a deduction for the unborn Kansan?"

He not only didn't take the bait, but responded: "Where do you come up with these questions anyway?"

Sidestepping questions -- and avoiding making one of those memorable quotes that he'd read for weeks -- is a skill Brownback has honed nicely over the years.

It just makes fishing for those quotes difficult.

Syndicated by Hawver News Co. of Topeka, Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report. To learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit www.hawvernews.com.

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