LETTER: Veterans’ home

Sen. Jeff Pittman/Leavenworth

To the editor:

Following Rep. Proctor’s letter in the April 13, 2021, edition of the Leavenworth Times, I have received numerous inquiries regarding our local representative taking sole credit for getting a new veterans’ home in northeast Kansas. I typically wouldn’t respond to such self-aggrandizing assertions and stretching of facts, but many have called on me to set the record straight. I celebrate the progress we have made over the last two years and recognize there is truly a team of stakeholders who have come together to work on this. There is still more to be done, of course.

The concept of locating a veterans’ home in northeast Kansas is not original to Rep. Proctor, nor even me. “His bill” is the continuation of two years of bipartisan progress and collaboration – if not longer when one looks at how veteran service organizations began advocating before that. In fact, he had nothing to do with the governor issuing her executive order to move forward with the process.

I put together a bill last session while still in the House and separated it into two parts – one directing the administration to apply for the federal cost-share program and the other to pre-authorize bonds if we were selected as a site by the federal VA. I made sure to get bi-partisan sponsorship. Last session, I worked with many, including senators, representatives and the administration, to educate them on the idea. We came close but efforts halted due to COVID-19 as happened to many other bills.

For him to claim this effort as “his bill” is like giving the postman credit for the content of a letter, or the center the credit for a touchdown on a football team. He and our other local representatives took the bill language, specifically on the bonding, and resubmitted with a new date. The pre-authorization isn’t absolutely necessary, but it does look good for moving us up the long list of federal VA project applications. But for him to claim sole credit for even the pre-authorization of bonding is beyond a stretch. Rep. Tim Johnson did a great job carrying that bill on the House floor and coming to the Senate a number of times like the final conference committee negotiation. For anyone to take sole credit disenfranchises all of our other local representatives, helpful leadership and other advocates by doing so.

While Proctor did play a role, which I appreciate, I was worried that some of his work may have negatively impacted the amount of bonding set aside by the Kansas House for the project. Claiming savings like donated lands in Wyandotte that, upon research, were non-existent and possible contractor savings on VA land, our Leavenworth representative may have misrepresented any existing commitments on the House floor. The pre-approved bonding total was cut nearly 40% in the House, yielding fewer potential beds and options for the new home.

In the end we must all realize this is a cooperative effort. I played my role in working with key Senate stakeholders this year, working with cooperative relationships I’d built in the House behind the scenes, and with the governor. Rep. Proctor served as House Republican which has certain benefits in House leadership. The governor has been in direct communication with the secretary of the federal VA as well as the current White House staff about this project. We need to continue to keep our eye on the ball and stop trying to denigrate others in this process.

I, nor other legislators, can take singular credit here. Moving legislation like this takes a team. When partisan hackery gets in the way, it threatens good projects like this. I’d call on our state representative to take some lessons from this in the future and put his efforts to actually working to advance the issues of our area versus trying to malign others and make claims he is the one who has made all things happen.

Sen. Jeff Pittman represents District 5 in the Kansas Senate.