The day after he was elected to serve in the Kansas House, Aaron Coleman, an admitted abuser who once threatened to shoot a high school student, tweeted that he would “call a hit out” on his fellow Democrat, Gov. Laura Kelly.
We on the editorial board said that he should not be seated, as did many survivors of the kind of sexual harassment and violence that Coleman has been accused of since middle school.
But those who could have stopped him did not: “I haven’t received a request to unseat him, but I think in a democracy we have a responsibility to uphold the integrity of our elections,” House Speaker Ron Ryckman told The Star Editorial Board at the time. “I’d be leery of an attempt to override the vote of the people.”
And Coleman himself? He tweeted this in response, a year ago this week: “Really, at this point, nobody can really stop me.”
So far, he’s been proven right, mostly because no one with the power to stop him has even tried.
Whatever the particulars of his behavior on Saturday, this situation has been frightening for such a long time that in a sense, it does not qualify as news at all: Eight times since August of last year, we’ve asked first voters and then lawmakers to keep Coleman’s accusers safe.
Hold this young man accountable, we begged. Get him the help he so obviously needs.
Well, the Wyandotte County Democrats didn’t see why they should do that. Such good positions on climate change and health care, they said, as if that were the point.
Voters waved him on in, and then Republican House leadership overruled the House Democrats, who wanted to at least impose some structure on his promises to do better.
Since all of his abusive behavior happened before he took office, GOP House leaders said last year, well, nothing could be done.
That wasn’t even true: How is continuing to threaten the governor not abusive? A look at his social media shows that that was not one incident, but part of a pattern. But for whatever reason, they decided that a letter asking him to shape up ought to do the trick.
You are not going to believe this, but it did not. Earlier this month, he was banned from the Kansas Department of Labor after a tirade there.
Lawmakers concerned with politics, not mental health
This last Saturday, the same day he was arrested, he was tweeting all manner of sad and scary stuff, and reached out by phone and text to one current and one former female lawmaker. One said he wasn’t really making sense, and both said he made them uncomfortable.
“I’m scared for people exposed to his anger,” said Jennifer Day, the former lawmaker, who said that after she urged a potential political rival not to respond to his accusations on Twitter, he messaged her to say they should meet for coffee. Day resigned in June because she was moving out of her district.
“One of my greatest regrets in life,” Coleman tweeted, at 2:25 a.m. on Saturday, “is that after being abused and locked in a closet for four years at #Turner elementary school, and isolated in solitary confinement from the other students, I am now traumatized as well as several years behind in my social skills. This deficiency makes it difficult to express to the world the love that I hold in my tender heart. It makes it even harder to form and maintain meaningful relationships, including romantic relationships.”
Not funny: We tell kids that if one of their classmates seems off to them, they should say something. Just like you do, elected leaders?
As Coleman himself makes clear, he urgently needs an intervention. Yet we should be most afraid for Coleman’s victims, past, present and potential.
And it’s frightening to think that these are the folks who decide on funding mental health services for the rest of us.
According to Kristey Williams, an Augusta Republican, the pressing mental health concern of the moment is the threat that students who hear any unhappy truth about American history in class — critical race theory, she calls it — will ruin their self-esteem.
Yet to Kansas Republicans, there was perfect sanity in Friday and Saturday’s testimony on COVID-19 masks. Hour after hour, speakers compared the horror of being asked to put a piece of paper over our faces out of concern for others to slavery, and to the extermination of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, of Wichita, said mask mandates are “racism against the modern-day Jew, which is anyone who disagrees.”
We keep pointing out how offensive that is, and that it keeps happening suggests that the intent is to offend.
It’s also a hysterical response to the imaginary threats posed by teaching a more balanced view of history, and of public health measures in response to a pandemic. While the non-imaginary threat posed by Coleman is ignored, and GOP Sen. Gene Suellentrop is allowed to behave as though evading police while speeding drunk in the wrong direction never even happened.
If/when something worse happens, where either of these lawmakers is concerned, let no one say, “If only I had known.”