Democrat Aaron Coleman defeated an entrenched incumbent for a seat in the House while championing a Green New Deal. But that accomplishment is overshadowed by controversy. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Rep.-elect Aaron Coleman is frustrated by plans for House Democratic leaders to file a formal complaint seeking his expulsion from office in defiance of the will of voters in Kansas City, Kansas.
Coleman, who defeated seven-term incumbent Democratic Rep. Stan Frownfelter by 14 votes in the August primary, easily won the general election in November despite public disclosure of a series of incidents with women over the years that included alleged bullying, harassment, stalking, physical threats and posting of revenge porn.
“Look, I spent the entire campaign, the primary campaign, apologizing from one issue to the next, whether it was from what I did in middle school or whatever. So, the voters knew,” he told the Kansas Reflector podcast.
He promised to stand up for his constituents in Wyandotte County, who may not have realized his stubbornness meant that he was “just gonna fight super hard for them, no matter what.”
Coleman, 20, refers to himself as a Green New Deal Democrat who drew interest with a liberal agenda that led voters to reject Frownfelter in the primary and again in November when he mounted a write-in campaign. Coleman is poised to be the youngest member of the 2021 Kansas Legislature when it convenes Monday.
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said Monday a grievance would be filed this week in an attempt to oust Coleman from office. The complaint would initiate an inquiry by a special House committee to hear evidence and consider possible sanctions. It would take a two-thirds majority vote in the Republican-dominated House to discipline Coleman.
Coleman said Sawyer pre-emptively denied him committee assignments and, more unusually, blocked him from being assigned office space in the Capitol. Coleman said Sawyer was preventing the fair representation of his constituents.
“They have no voice in the people’s House. They have no voice in the committee process. They have no representation effectively, due to unilateral action,” Coleman said.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said he thought it would be appropriate if Coleman resigned because such controversy would interfere with a lawmaker’s ability to serve voters effectively. The Kansas Democratic Party long ago decided to forsake Coleman.
“Ryckman is entitled to his opinion,” Coleman said. “But, at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters on who should be in office and who should not be not be in office is the voters.
“You know, the Democratic Party will try desperately to do anything they can to silence what it calls its socialist insurgents. What they mean by that is they want only voices which advocate the neoliberal corporate agenda,” he said.
In December, seven women elected in 2020 to the Kansas House requested Coleman renounce his campaign victory. They pointed to allegations that he engaged in violent behavior against women stretching to 2014. They also noted Coleman’s commentary about Gov. Laura Kelly, including calling for a “hit” on the Democratic governor.
“We stand united with survivors of sexual assault and violence and acknowledge the pain that the continued notoriety may be causing women and survivors,” said Rep. Jennifer Day, a Democrat from Overland Park. “At least four of the seven of us are survivors of sexual assault, and our hearts go out to those who are suffering.”
Coleman said the coalition of House members were defending Frownfelter because he was willing to go to Johnson County country clubs to “sip martinis with them, play golf and vote how they wanted on their on their corporate agenda.”
Colemans’ issues with females stretched back to when he was middle-school student. He said that as a “sick and troubled” boy he circulated revenge porn and did other regrettable things. He said he should have been more respectful in his youth, but didn’t view “my middle school behavior as anything reflective of my conduct as an adult.”
More recently, however, former Frownfelter campaign worker Brandie Armstrong accused Coleman of sending her harassing texts. A temporary stalking order was imposed on Coleman. Armstrong and Coleman did reach an agreement leading to dismissal of her lawsuit against Coleman. They released a joint statement affirming both were “passionate about helping their constituents” and agreeing to “treat each other with dignity and respect.”
“I was glad it was dismissed,” Coleman said. “Innocent until proven guilty at this point. If the Kansas Legislature is going to expel me for something that’s been dismissed, that’s basically saying, ‘You’re guilty, even once proven innocent.’”
Coleman, who is taking a break from community college to serve in the Legislature, endorsed a GoFundMe effort to raise money for his legal defense.
“It’s not about if you agree with my politics or you agree with everything,” he said. “Do you believe in democracy as enshrined in the Constitution? And if you ultimately believe that voters should decide who’s in office and not party insiders, I’m just asking you send a couple bucks or however much you can afford to that GoFundMe.”
Coleman, who ran for Kansas governor as an independent in 2018, focused his legislative candidacy on a platform that featured proposals to legalize marijuana, end community college tuition and provide universal health coverage.
He recommended the governor pardon people incarcerated in jail or prison on drug charges. Eliminating tuition at colleges and improving access to medical care would be a boost for the state’s economy, he said.
In advance of the 2021 session of the Legislature, he filed a bill that would gradually increase the minimum wage in Kansas to $17.25 by 2032. He referred to the current minimum wage in Kansas of $7.25 as a “starvation” wage.
“I believe anybody who works 40 hours a week should not live in poverty,” he said. “It just it just makes no sense.”
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