Behavior of some Kansas legislators raises questions. They need to ponder their actions.
Do we expect our elected officials to be paragons of virtue? No. That’s not possible. People are flawed and make mistakes.
We do however believe it’s fair to hold them to a higher standard than the average citizen. After all, they sought out public life.
In our view, elected officials have a responsibility to model the best behavior. They should be people we look up to. Leaders who think before acting. People we want our children to emulate.
Recently we’ve found some Kansas legislators lacking.
Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, recently pled no contest to the DUI and reckless driving charges. The charges stem from a March wrong-way drunken driving incident on Interstate 70 in Topeka. The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl reported prosecutors dropped the felony charge as part of the plea deal. This might allow Suellentrop to keep his seat in the Kansas Senate.
Rep. Aaron Coleman, a Kansas City Democrat, has been banned by the Kansas Department of Labor from its premises. Bahl reports the ban stems from Coleman allegedly trying to access an employee-only segment of the agency's headquarters and for "disruptive, intimidating and berating" behavior — charges Coleman disputes.
Rep. Mark Samsel plead guilty to three lesser charges after an April incident where he allegedly assaulted two students while substitute teaching. Samsel attributed the outburst to "an isolated episode of mania with psychotic features, caused by extreme stress, pressure, and agitation over a sustained period of time," including the annual legislative session.
To put it bluntly, Suellentrop put people's lives in danger.
That fact gets overlooked in the more salacious details of the back-and-forth between Suellentrop and a member of the Kansas Highway Patrol whom he allegedly called a "donut boy,” according to an affidavit.
At least one driver told 911 operators the vehicle nearly struck him. Law enforcement twice attempted a maneuver of halting a speeding vehicle, both times to no avail. Did Suellentrop's privilege play a role in the plea bargain? Attorneys argue no.
Suellentrop was ousted from his position as Kansas Senate majority leader in April. The lawmaker didn't respond to questions about whether he would resign his seat. He will serve 48 hours in jail. Let's hope that time is well spent pondering his actions.
Coleman is a different situation. He has a history of alleged bullying, harassment and stalking. He was even reprimanded but not formally disciplined by a Kansas House committee for behavior prior to his election.
Coleman denies the charges, but it sounds like a familiar pattern. Bahl reports during the August partisan primary against former Rep. Stan Frownfelter, Coleman admitted to cyberbullying and revenge porn while in middle school, gaining national attention in the process.
Legislators, please do better.