Gov. Laura Kelly's choice to lead the Kansas Department of Commerce found himself in the crosshairs of Republican senators Wednesday who questioned his business dealings and blasted him for an inflammatory social media post.

David Toland apologized for the “juvenile” post and promised to rebuild an agency wrecked by previous administrations.

A crowd of supporters from the small southeast Kansas town of Iola turned out to support Toland as a Senate panel began a confirmation hearing that will continue Thursday morning.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, denounced Toland’s skewering of her colleagues on social media. She produced copies of a post that shows Toland struggling to sleep at night under the bedside gaze of state Sen. Caryn Tyson, a Republican from Parker, and former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Baumgardner also referenced complaints she received from Iola residents about Toland’s “heavy-handed” tactics.

“You understand from some of the critics, their concern is that you have benefited in fact from what your roles are as far public service, etc., in some of your business dealings,” Baumgardner said.

In an interview, Toland said he doesn't appreciate the distortion of his efforts to revive his hometown, where he returned in 2008 to guide economic development as executive director of Thrive Allen County.

"I'm mad as hell," Toland said. "I have a body of work that stands for itself. I've always operated with transparency, integrity and an abundance of caution."

Republicans hoping to undermine his appointment by Kelly, a Democrat, point to Toland's connections with Iola Industries, where he owned $100 worth of shares and served on the board, and development of apartments adjacent to a grocery store that Toland lured to town.

Toland told county lawmakers no public funds would be needed for the G&W Foods project. The development ended up receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax incentives when the project went over budget, and the next-door apartments owned by Iola Industries now are valued at more than $1 million.

Ultimately, however, Toland was widely praised for addressing the community's food desert and shortage of affordable housing.

Mary Kay Heard, chairwoman of the board for Iola Industries, said Toland "lit a fire" and pushed to get things done.

"David is a master at seeing the big picture," Heard said. "He is smart, energetic and passionate. He knows economic development."

Toland also divested shares in Iola Square LLC, which owned and renovated office space on the city’s main street, shortly before Thrive moved into the space. Thrive entered into a lease that paid his former business partners $900 per month.

Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican and chairwoman of the Senate committee, said she has heard from people who are unhappy with the way Toland “behaved on the ground” as he orchestrated deals.

“We need to look at those a little bit further before we feel comfortable confirming him,” Lynn said.

In a testy confrontation with Lynn after the hearing, Bob Chase, a Toland supporter and retired former director of the Southeast Kansas Mental Health Center, dismissed the criticism as a politically motivated “hatchet job.”

Toland described accusations about conflicts of interest as the product of “a prominent local Republican” and her decadelong campaign to oppose his efforts. Iola resident Virginia Crossland-Macha is the Kansas Republican Party’s vice chairwoman, and her husband opposed Toland’s initiative to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21 for fear it would affect sales at his convenience store.

“I have watched this process unfold firsthand," Crossland-Macha said. "Mr. Toland’s version of economic development has displaced local small businesses and jobs in Iola. Economic development with taxpayer subsidies for building new business must not come at the expense of existing businesses that have invested in the community."

Toland left a more lucrative position as an economic planner for the District of Columbia to take the reins of Thrive Allen County. The nonprofit handles economic development efforts for the city, county and Iola Industries. Thrive’s board approved the decision to relocate to main street with full knowledge of his previous business relationship, Toland said.

Iola Industries operates more like a nonprofit than a corporation, Toland said, and works to attract such businesses as Russell Stover, handing over 60 acres for the candy plant in the 1990s. Iola Industries doesn’t pay dividends, and Toland said he has made zero dollars from the organization's projects.

Toland spearheaded developments that won national recognition for a community where the countywide population is about 13,000. He helped build a new hospital, establish 27 miles of trails, retain local business and recruit doctors and dentists. In annual health rankings by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, Allen County improved from 94th in the state in 2009 to 38th this year.

"What you have is a bunch of civic-minded people who came together to do something difficult," Toland said.

Kelly hailed Toland's economic development work at Thrive Allen County. Toland served as Kelly’s campaign treasurer before she named him as her nominee for commerce secretary.

“David Toland is a seventh generation Kansan who has given back to his hometown of Iola, as well as so many other communities across the state,” Kelly said. “Kansas could not ask for a better Secretary of Commerce. His energy, expertise and collaborative style will ensure that businesses have the partner they deserve and that the Kansas economy continues to grow.”

Toland won the support of residents, business leaders, educators and military veterans. In statements for his confirmation hearing, acquaintances heaped praise for his dedication, management ability and leadership. They called him a gifted grant writer and deal closer.

John McRae, president of Iola Industries, praised Toland's understanding of growing the tax base, utilizing incentives, being competitive and personal contact with business partners.

A lifelong Republican, former Iola mayor and chamber director, McRae grew so fond of Toland that he gave Toland his personal copy of "Atlas Shrugged," the Ayn Rand novel beloved by conservatives.

"It concerns me that David is being portrayed as a wild-eyed liberal by people who should know better," McRae said. "Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, he is a Democrat, but he is also an intelligent, talented, home-grown Kansan with enormous capabilities."

Mike Kuckelman, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said the concern with Toland isn't a partisan issue.

"We understand Gov. Kelly won the election and needs to put a team in place to run the state," Kuckelman said. "Republicans will work with Gov. Kelly to ensure she is able to get her team in place. However, Republicans will do our due diligence during the confirmation process to vet her choices in the public interest.”

Toland told lawmakers the Department of Commerce was “systematically dismantled” under his predecessors. He said his experience with turnaround projects and success as an entrepreneur has prepared him to rebuild the agency.

“I did not create these problems, but I am here to solve them,” Toland said.

He said the social media post was a mistake and not reflective of who he is.

Earlier in the week, Kelly's appointment for an appeals court position fell apart over district judge Jeffry Jack's profane and political tweets.

"I think we need to grow up in this state," said Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe. "We're attacking each other so badly, especially on social media. I want to quit social media because of the nastiness."