This Kansas Senate candidate can’t apologize enough

Virgil Peck, as he appears in a campaign video on his Facebook page.

It’s been almost a decade since Virgil Peck first apologized.

“Looks like to me, if shooting these immigrating feral hogs works, maybe we have found a (solution) to our illegal immigration problem,” Peck, then a state representative from southeast Kansas, said during a legislative committee hearing back in March 2011.

This made national news. “He initially said he was joking,” CNN reported, “and then released a terse, two-sentence statement saying, ‘My statements (Monday) were regrettable. Please accept my apology.’”

He’s been apologizing ever since.

“Nine years ago, I made a regrettable comment. It took about 8 seconds. I have apologized hundreds of times since then,” Peck told me late last month. “Anyone who has not said anything in the last 10 years they regret saying, they better vote for Goddard.”

He’s referring to Sen. Dan Goddard, a Republican from Parsons who has represented Kansas Senate District 15 since 2017. Peck is challenging him in next week’s primary.

Peck, a self-employed insurance agent who lives in the Montgomery County hamlet of Havana, was a member of the Kansas House for a dozen years before he ran for a Senate seat in 2016. He lost to Goddard in that primary by 171 votes.

He deserves at least a couple of points for self-awareness.

“I’m not a perfect person,” Peck said in the news release announcing his candidacy. “Like everyone else, I’ve made mistakes. But my campaign will focus on the issues as I compare and contrast the political differences between me and my opponent.”

Those political differences are a study in minimal contrasts.

When I asked Goddard about the issues, his first words were strongly pro-life and pro-gun. After checking those boxes, he talked about how his support for education had earned him an endorsement from the Kansas National Education Association.

He also talked about expanding Medicaid, which tends to get Kansas Republicans in trouble.

“We’ve got thousands of people out there in Kansas without insurance, and I think the passage of Medicaid expansion would assist our local hospitals,” he said, adding that Medicaid expansion would create 13,000 new jobs.

“I really get upset when we have thousands of Kansans who have less access to health care than inmates in our correctional facilities,” he said. “I really think we need to do something right. Regardless of political affiliation, I think expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do.”

When I asked him about Peck, Goddard said: “I think that he would serve as a not a force of unity in the Kansas Senate. I think that he has used in the campaign a lot of toxic rhetoric, innuendo, exaggeration and actually practicing the politics of personal destruction. I am not that kind of person.”

By contrast, watching Peck’s campaign videos is to be oddly mesmerized by a caricature someone at Netflix might have written into a script as “Kansas politician.”

Here’s Peck, defending the 2nd Amendment on a location that commemorates how the citizens of Coffeyville armed themselves against an attempted bank robbery by the Dalton Gang in 1892: “An unarmed society is an unsafe society,” Peck says. (Eight men died in the Coffeyville gunfight, including four of the good guys.)

Here’s Peck and his wife, Tamara, outside a pregnancy crisis center: “While Tamara did volunteer work, providing encouragement and care for the pregnant mothers, I did the things men can do — like building maintenance and remodeling, in addition to regular financial support.”

I asked Peck whether his views had changed since his “feral hogs” days.

“No, they have not,” he said. “That comment was not my view. I was trying to make a point using humor, and it was the wrong thing to do and say. My views on illegal immigration is we should put a stop to it, we should build a wall, we should enforce the laws.”

He went on: “We welcome immigrants, would love to have more immigrants. We’ve got jobs they could fill that are going wanting.”

The president’s policies haven’t made it easy for job-filling immigrants to make it to southeast Kansas, but Peck said it ought to be at least a little difficult.

“Because I don’t want it so easy that everybody from all over the world just comes in and then weakens our American standards,” he said. “Most persons who have come to the United States and become legal, they said yes it was difficult, but it was well worth it.”

I didn’t ask him to elaborate on “American standards.” He’d said enough.