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Missing tribute

7/9/2014

If you happened to notice flags flying at half-staff today, it was because former Sen. Ross O. Doyen, R-Concordia, died July 3. The order came straight from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who also noted: "Senator Doyen was a true Kansan, and we are grateful for his service. I extend my deepest sympathy to his family and friends and will keep them in my prayers."

If you happened to notice flags flying at half-staff today, it was because former Sen. Ross O. Doyen, R-Concordia, died July 3. The order came straight from Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who also noted: "Senator Doyen was a true Kansan, and we are grateful for his service. I extend my deepest sympathy to his family and friends and will keep them in my prayers."

The governor must have been pulling from the memories of others, as he was a fairly green attorney in Manhattan who hadn't yet entered political life when Doyen last served in the Legislature in 1984.

We have no problem with that, as it is customary for governors to honor past lawmakers. In fact, the U.S. Flag Code highly encourages it: "In the event of the death a present or former official of the government of any State, territory, or possession of the United States, the Governor of that state, territory, or possession may proclaim that the National flag shall be flown at half-staff."

But since Brownback did not offer the half-staff salute in memory of former Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Hays, when he died June 29, it made us curious.

Johnson did not serve as president of the Senate as Doyen did, but Johnson did proudly serve the 110th House District for 14 years. He did not serve in the military during World War II as Doyen did, but Johnson was a retired lieutenant colonel in the Kansas National Guard. And, with no disrespect to Sen. Doyen and his survivors, Johnson was as true a Kansan as ever had lived in the Sunflower State. Likewise, Johnson's family and friends equally deserved deepest sympathy and prayers from the governor.

We checked the records available on the governor's website. Brownback has not hesitated to lower the flag since he was elected.

Orders for half-staff come every Memorial Day, Veterans Day, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, Sept. 11, Kansas Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Day, Fallen Firefighters Memorial Day and National Peace Officers Memorial Day. The U.S. flag goes down for every Kansas military member killed in the line of duty, and there have been at least 14 of these heroes honored by the current administration.

State and national tragedies are recognized with half-staff flags, such as the fatal shootings at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Oak Creek, Wis., and Aurora, Colo. The honor was given upon the deaths of Nelson Mandela, the last World War I veteran, Kansas Court of Appeals Chief Judge Richard D. Greene and federal Judge Wesley Brown. Even two Shawnee County police officers were recognized in this fashion.

Additionally, each current or former lawmaker in the Kansas Legislature who has passed away since Jan. 10, 2010, has had the flags lowered for them. Besides Sen. Doyen, the honor has been given to Rep. Don Dahl, R-Hillsboro; Rep. Mike Peterson, D-Kansas City; Rep. Ed Bideau, R-Chanute; and Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden.

But not Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Hays.

Why? Despite repeated requests and contact with the governor's director of communications and press secretary, Eileen Hawley, and his deputy communications director, Brianna Landon, we still don't know.

We do not know if it was an oversight, an intentional slight, or somebody's lapse in following whatever protocol exists that prompted all of the other individuals to receive the honor. Whatever the reason, the "consistent flag etiquette" called for by the State of Kansas' Flag Honors program was not upheld.

It is up to Gov. Sam Brownback to rectify the situation. Besides the president of the United States, only governors can order flags to be flown at half-staff. Dan Johnson earned that honor. It is the governor's obligation to ensure "Big D" receives it.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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