LAWRENCE — Kansas House Democratic candidate Aaron Coleman on Friday urged Republican candidates not to wear a mask during the pandemic in anticipation they would be stricken by COVID-19 and do poorly in the November general elections.
Coleman, a 19-year-old candidate for a Wyandotte County seat in the Legislature and a 2018 independent candidate for governor, doubled down on his recent social media posts. He made light of the death of former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, who contracted coronavirus and declined to wear a mask at an Oklahoma rally for President Donald Trump. He also said he would “giggle” if former state Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita radio talk show host, was killed by COVID-19.
“Mask it or casket is a factual statement,” Coleman said in an interview. “It’s not politics. It’s a factual statement.”
Coleman said he was amused by the prospect of COVID-19 spreading among Kansas Republican candidates for benefit Democrats in the general election. He said that result would be darkly comedic in the way “we laugh” when someone talking on a cellphone while driving gets into an automobile accident.
He said he was responsible for a post to Facebook that expressed glee at the reality of Cain’s death and prospects of Whitmer’s demise. It offered an image of Jesus lifting his clothing to reveal a portion of his rear end and the text: “Don’t wear a mask so we can be together forever.”
“John, I’m going to laugh and giggle when you get COVID and die,” Coleman said on the post. “At least we can say you died doing what you love. Ask your buddy Herman Cain how it worked out for him.”
Whitmer responded on Facebook by questioning Coleman’s mockery of the lethal nature of COVID-19, which has killed more than 150,000 people in the United States and more than 350 in Kansas.
“I’ll make sure your tolerance and fair-minded nature are shared with your potential constituents,” said Whitmer, who was in the Kansas House from 2015 to 2019.
In an interview, Whitmer said he objected to mask mandates issued by unelected county or state health officials. He also found it offensive that anyone would long for more death from coronavirus. He said Coleman’s conduct as a candidate was “wholly inappropriate” and one consequence of the hyper-partisan political culture.
Coleman said he was irritated Whitmer was spreading to the KNSS radio audience his anti-mask “conspiracy theories” that could endanger the lives of thousands.
State Rep. Nick Hoheisel, a Wichita Republican, took to Facebook to express disdain for Coleman’s rhetoric and to question why the Kansas Democratic Party hadn’t denounced Coleman. He said Coleman demonstrated a “complete lack of regard for life.”
“It’s disturbing that a Democratic candidate for office in Kansas has such a disregard for life, and even more disturbing that the Kansas Democratic Party has remained silent on this matter,” Hoheisel said in a statement. “COVID-19 is a serious issue, and wishing it upon anyone is horrendous. Hopefully, my colleagues on the other side of the aisle call it out for what it is.”
Rep. Stan Frownfelter, D-Kansas City, is running for re-election against Coleman to the House. In that Wyandotte County race, no Republican filed.
Frownfelter said he was aware of some of Coleman’s social media commentary, but hadn’t been informed about his latest remarks on COVID-19.
“He is embarrassing our party,” Frownfelter said. “This is pretty extreme. He’s self-imploded. I had no idea this comment came out. I have tried to stay out of it. I’m spiritual. I’m a Catholic. I’m running on what I’ve done, my record.”
Coleman said he wasn’t able to engage in door-to-door campaigning because he’s in quarantine due to possibility he was infected by the virus. If the test comes back positive, he said, it would likely be the result of community spread resulting from individuals not wearing a mask in public.
In April, Coleman announced his candidacy for Frownfelter’s seat in District 37 in Kansas City, Kan. Coleman said he was from Turner and served as a precinct committeeman for the Wyandotte County Democratic Party. He also was secretary of Wyandotte County Young Democrats, but was forced to resign.
He said his candidacy was inspired by a belief that he would help bring about a Kansas that “works for every citizen, and not policies drafted by statehouse lobbyists.” He learned from his unsuccessful campaign for governor that some lawmakers stay in office too long.
“I seek to bring a fresh and caring view of every bill and issue that the Legislature confronts,” he said.