Frank Morris

National Correspondent and Senior Editor

Frank Morris has supervised the reporters in KCUR's newsroom since 1999. In addition to his managerial duties, Morris files regularly with National Public Radio. He’s covered everything from tornadoes to tax law for the network, in stories spanning eight states. His work has won dozens of awards, including four national Public Radio News Directors awards (PRNDIs) and several regional Edward R. Murrow awards. In 2012 he was honored to be named "Journalist of the Year" by the Heart of America Press Club.

Morris grew up in rural Kansas listening to KHCC, spun records at KJHK throughout college at the University of Kansas, and cut his teeth in journalism as an intern for Kansas Public Radio, in the Kansas statehouse.

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The Native American tribe that gave Kansas its name will dance in the state for the first time in 142 years.   

The Kaw or Kanza tribe once occupied most of what became Nebraska, and nearly half of modern day Kansas. Tribal spokesman Ken Bellmard says bad treaties and European diseases decimated the tribe.

In Missouri, two political suicides have stunned the Republican Party. In February, state Auditor Tom Schweich, a leading candidate for the party's nomination for governor, shot himself. Then just last month, his press secretary, Spence Jackson, took his own life. The tragedies have sparked fresh scrutiny of Missouri's increasingly bruising political system.

Schweich launched his campaign for governor with a scathing broadside against the state's Republican Party establishment.

Earthquakes are more frequent than ever in Oklahoma, and they're hitting harder. KCUR's Frank Morris visits Kansas's neighbor to the South and gets perspectives and stories from those directly affected by the situation. Is the cornerstone of that state's economy shaking its foundation?

Last week, Kathryn Gardner was the second judge confirmed under Kansas’s new method of selecting appellate court judges, and her confirmation gives the state a look at the system Gov. Sam Brownback wants to use for choosing state supreme court justices.

Confirmation by a process "comfortable" for Kansans

Washburn law professor Michael Kaye says he thinks Gardner was a good choice.

“When I think of her temperament, I think she would be an excellent judge,” he says. 

Kansas City has some of the Internet's best service anywhere. Providers there jostle for customers who can now expect broadband that's about 100 times faster than the national average.

But, four years after Google Fiber landed in Kansas City, people are still trying to figure out just what to do with all that speed.

Kansas City's a modest, Midwestern place. Residents are proud of their barbecue and baseball team. But Aaron Deacon says that now there's something else: inexpensive, world-class Internet.

Courtesy / EyeVerify

Kansas City-based tech firm EyeVerify announced a major deal Sunday, one that will put its technology on millions of Chinese smart phones.  

EyeVerify develops mobile technology that can recognize the unique veins in a person’s eye in a fraction of a second. Users just have to look at their phone cameras to unlock the device, or open a password-protected site. EyeVerify founder Toby Rush says it’s more secure than a password, and easier.

In Oklahoma, a state that largely rode out the recession on a gusher of new-found oil, things may be about to change.

Now it costs more to produce most of Oklahoma's oil than it's worth on the world market. That's triggering a sharp economic reversal, one that some say has the makings of a prolonged downturn.

"Over the last five years, the stars really aligned," says Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "The community's investment in itself just blossomed, the energy industry blossomed."

Out on Oklahoma's flat prairie, Medford, population about 900, is the kind of place where people give directions from the four-way stop in the middle of town.

It seems pretty sedate, but it's not. "We are shaking all the time," says Dea Mandevill, the city manager. "All the time."

The afternoon I stopped by, Mandevill says two quakes had already rumbled through Medford.

"Light day," she laughs. But, she adds, "the day's not over yet; we still have several more hours."

Mandevill may be laughing it off, but Austin Holland, the state seismologist, isn't.

Frank Morris / KCUR

If you think of an illustration of Oklahoma, you may picture a pan-shaped state, with an oil derrick on it.  But Oklahoma is fast becoming famous for something else — earthquakes.  In 2014, it registered more perceptible tremors than anywhere else in the contiguous United States, and they seem to be getting stronger. The industry that has long sustained Oklahoma is likely the one now cracking its foundations.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Stealing from your neighbor may not sound like a good idea, but Kansas and Missouri can’t seem to get enough of it.

For years now, the states have been locked in an economic border war, paying businesses –through tax incentives — to move across the state line, without necessarily creating new jobs. Lately there have been a few tentative signs of rapprochement. 

People working to develop a new terminal at Kansas City International Airport say the project is going so well that it could become a national model. 

A Catholic bishop normally governs pretty much unchecked in his diocese — only the pope can dislodge a bishop. And each time Catholics celebrate Mass in Kansas City, Mo., they pray for Bishop Robert Finn, right after they pray for Pope Francis.

But some Catholics here, like David Biersmith, a Eucharistic minister, refuse to go along.

"When the priest says that, you know, you're supposed say it with him, but I just leave that out," Biersmith says. "I just don't say it. Because he's not my bishop, as far as I'm concerned."

Frank Morris / KCUR

Increasingly Americans see fast internet as being more like a functioning sewer line, than a luxury. And to that end, a number of cities are trying to get into the internet provider business. But laws in 19 states hamper those efforts. President Obama wants to lift those restrictions.  Supporters of what’s known as municipal broadband can’t wait.

Americans increasingly see decently fast Internet as more like a functioning sewer line than a luxury.

And a number of cities are trying to get into the Internet provider business, but laws in 19 states hamper those efforts. President Obama announced this week that he wants to lift those restrictions, and supporters of what is known as municipal broadband can't wait.

The Associated Press reports that a federal grand jury is investigating loans to Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s re-election campaign.  

The loans in question were most likely from Kansas Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer. Colyer loaned the Brownback  campaign half a million dollars three separate times, always just before a campaign finance report was due.  On at least two occasions the campaign paid the money back days later.  

President Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba has drawn mixed reactions for Republicans in congress, but Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran sees a big opportunity for farmers.

Cuba imports a lot of wheat, but none of comes from the United States. Food’s not part of the trade embargo, but U.S. payment restrictions make Cuban exports impractical.

That’s costly to farmers. A Texas A&M study figures that free trade and travel with Cuba would boost the U.S. economy by more than a billion dollars, and create thousands of jobs.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Charles and David Koch are well known for funding political campaigns, but the Kochs also donate tens of millions of dollars to colleges and universities.

Nothing unusual about wealthy people giving to higher education, but some professors warn that Koch funding can come with conditions that threaten academic freedom, and that has sparked a debate about the influence of big donors in an age of diminishing public university funding.

Nine-by-nine

Frank Morris / KCUR

The FBI is investigating the death of a 15-year-old Muslim boy who was run down with a SUV outside the Somali center in Kansas City, Mo., Thursday night.

He later died of his injuries.

The center doubles as a mosque where the teen’s father is a teacher.

The FBI is looking into the death as a possible hate crime, but the suspect was well known to the those Kansas City’s Somali community. Ahmed H. Aden, 34, of Kansas City was charged with the crime Friday. Prosecutors are requesting a $250,000 bail.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Wichita, Kan., calls itself the "Air Capital of the World."

But sales of the business jets made there took a nosedive during the recession and have struggled since.

A couple of fresh business ideas are trying to help. One centers on getting more people to travel in small planes. The other is repurposing business jet technology to build a jet fighter for the developing world. 

Hard times in Wichita

Wichita’s been through some tough years recentl. And so has Kevin Bell.

Courtesy of the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy

Updated, 6:30 p.m. Tuesday:

Two of the four rabbis killed in a terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue Tuesday had deep ties to the Kansas City Jewish community. 

Rabbi Kalman Levine was part of Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy’s first graduating class in 1976. And Rabbi Mosheh Twersky’s nephew teaches at the Jewish school in Overland Park, Kan. 

The two men died Tuesday in Jerusalem. 

A couple of weeks before the election, the Kansas Department for Children and Families issued a press release that poverty in the state fell almost two and a half percent under Gov. Sam Brownback.

Brownback wasted no time incorporating those figures into the narrative of his success as governor.

“And just yesterday, poverty rates going down in the state of Kansas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” said Brownback at the gubernatorial debate in Wichita. “We are moving in the right direction and getting things done."

But the poverty rate information was wrong.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran from Kansas City, Mo., who became a symbol of the anti-war movement, died peacefully in his sleep early Monday morning. He was 34.

Young joined the Army right after 9/11, wanting to take revenge on the Taliban in Afghanistan. He was shipped instead to Iraq, and within a week of landing there, he was shot in the spine and paralyzed below the chest. 

Frank Morris / KCUR

Gov. Sam Brownback was re-elected as Kansas governor by a narrow margin Tuesday night after a tough campaign against Democratic challenger Paul Davis.

Brownback took a majority in crucial Johnson and Sedgwick counties, giving the Republican the edge over Davis, who ended up with 47 percent of the vote. Brownback landed 49 percent of the vote, and 4 percent went to Libertarian candidate Keen Umbehr.

"What a night!" Brownback exclaimed as he thanked supporters for the win. "Paul Davis ran a great race ... that State Fair debate is not one I will soon forget."

Frank Morris / KCUR

About 6,000 fans Thursday made one more trip to Kauffman Stadium, just to celebrate the 2014 Kansas City Royals.

It was cloudy and threatening rain as fans filed into Kauffman Stadium. Almost on cue, the sun came out when the celebration started. 

Fans chanted “Thank you, Royals,” with the familiar cadence. Many were smiling. It was festive. There were little kids dressed as baseball players, cheerleaders, and Sluggerrr, the Royals’ mascot.

Most were smiling, but Mike Arnott stood with eyes puffy from crying. 

Another law enforcement group is backing Paul Davis over incumbent Sam Brownback for Kansas Governor.

The Kansas Highway Patrol's PAC says that they decided to back Davis because he fought consistently for laws that hold criminals accountable for their actions when he served in the Kansas House. 

The Kansas Paternal Order of Police publicly backed Davis over the summer. Davis supporters say that these endorsements show that he is hard on crime.

Frank Morris / KCUR

Americans saw how important a state elections officer can be in 2000, when Florida Secretary of State Kathryn Harris certified the presidential election for George Bush.

Recently, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach intervened in a contentious race that could alter the balance of power in the U.S. Senate.

Kobach is known nationwide as a conservative Republican in a deeply red state. But this year, he is struggling to win re-election.

More than 70 former Kansas lawmakers, all of them Republicans, have endorsed the Democrat in the Secretary of State race.

Traditional Republicans for Common Sense is backing Jean Schodorf, a Democrat, over incumbent Republican Kris Kobach. Founder Jim Yonally, a former state Representative, from Overland Park, says the decision to back Schodorf is partly because Kobach has embraced what Yonally sees as a stridently conservative political agenda.

Yonally says his group draws from generations of moderate Kansas Republican leaders.

Frank Morris / KCUR

The three candidates for governor in Kansas diverge on taxes, health care and school funding, but they   came together Friday for a debate sponsored by the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce. 

The contest is largely between incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis. Friday’s gubernatorial debate in Overland Park also included the Libertarian candidate, Keen Umbehr, who echoed some of Gov. Brownback’s views and pledged to take his income tax cuts to a new level.

Kansas Supreme Court justices peppered a lawyer representing Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach with tough questions about how the law and the interests of Kansans are served by Kobach’s refusal to allow Democrat Chad Taylor to remove his name from the U.S. Senate ballot. 

Kobach maintains he refused to remove Taylor’s name because Taylor’s notarized letter to Kobach’s office did not expressly state he was “incapable of fulfilling the duties of office if elected,” as Kobach says the relevant law requires.

The candidates for governor in Kansas are sparring over taxes, health care and school funding. But in many ways there’s a more fundamental issue that separates  Gov. Sam Brownback from his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis. Both stand on opposing sides of a running battle over how state Supreme Court justices should be chosen.

Lots of people are influential in one way or another, of course, but Kansas Supreme Court justices really do make a difference, says Michael Kaye, a trial advocacy professor at Washburn University School of Law.

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