“Politics ain’t beanbag,” the famous saying goes. But Kansas lawmakers hope it doesn’t have to be mean, either.
Some legislators would like to brush up on how to be kinder to one another. Republican and Democratic leaders plan a Friday workshop on civil discourse, where legislators will discuss how to shrink instead of expand the political divide.
The event aims to “provide lawmakers with an opportunity to build relationships,” according to a December email to legislators from House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican.
Organizers say the workshop – a kind of civility summit – is well-timed. Just two weeks into 2020, lawmakers have already exchanged sharp words, even as they have struck big compromises across the aisle. But examples of incivil conduct stretch back months and years.
This fall, Rep. Michael Capps, a Wichita Republican, was linked to a false smear campaign against then-Rep. Brandon Whipple, who was a candidate in the Wichita mayor’s race. The campaign involved a video falsely accusing Whipple of sexual harassment. Whipple won the election.
In 2018, Rep. Steve Alford was stripped of his committee chairmanship after he made comments linking African Americans to marijuana use. And in 2011, Rep. Virgil Peck suggested people in the country illegally could be shot like feral hogs, a comment he described as a joke. Neither Alford or Peck are currently in the Legislature.
“I think the atmosphere has become a little more charged every year I’ve been up here, quite frankly,” said Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Democrat who is one of several lawmakers organizing the event. “And I think the national lack of civility … has been what has trickled down to, I think in some sense, the state legislature. So if there ever was a time to do this, it’s now.”
Ryckman told reporters that the event will talk about “how we can maybe remove some of the emotion inside of our debates so we can listen to each other better.”