Opinion

Kansas senator’s bullying of county health officials is the height of self-regarding delusion

July 7, 2022 1:05 pm
Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, sent a letter encouraging Reno County commissioners to fire health department officials He spoke last year at the Freedom Revival in the Heartland at City Center Church in Lenexa. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Sen. Mark Steffen, R-Hutchinson, sent a letter encouraging Reno County commissioners to fire health department officials He spoke last year at the Freedom Revival in the Heartland at City Center Church in Lenexa. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Sen. Mark Steffen acts as though he’s the hero in his own story. In reality, he’s a single state legislator drunk on imagined power.

The Hutchinson anesthesiologist’s high-on-his-own-supply tendencies have been apparent for a while now, but his latest posturing deserves special note. He decided to send a letter to the Reno County health department, declaring that its work vaccinating young children against COVID-19 was a threat.

“While I take no pleasure in sending this letter, the citizens of Reno County can no longer endure a health department that blindly and thoughtlessly follows the politicized CDC and FDA,” Steffen wrote in the email calling for county commissioners to fire their own health officials. “Your failure to reason the way through the virus response has led to needless suffering and even death.”

“I strongly encourage you to leave immediately on your own terms as soon as possible,” he added.

Who does this man think he is?

Steffen is a Republican state senator who was investigated by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts for prescribing ineffective, potentially harmful remedies during the worst pandemic of the past century. He previously used Senate letterhead to threaten hundreds of health care providers across the state for not using ivermectin. He is most certainly not a public health official, nor does he have the temperament or intellect to order around anyone other than a pet ferret. And that ferret is currently wondering if it can find a more responsible owner among the state’s grade schoolers.

Steffen has damaged the state, Legislature and his constituents. His bullying has left fear and bewilderment in its wake, for no good reason.

Steffen is most certainly not a public health official, nor does he have the temperament or intellect to order around anyone other than a pet ferret. And that ferret is currently wondering if it can find a more responsible owner among the state’s grade schoolers.

– Clay Wirestone

The man deserves to be stripped of his license to practice medicine, removed from his elected office and employed in a position better suited to his apparent skill set: selling dubious warranties for electronics in a big-box store. At least a two-year repair plan for the latest video game console won’t infect you with a novel virus.

The only person in this situation whose behavior may have led to “needless suffering and death” is Steffen himself. Spreading doubt about vaccines and effective treatments for COVID-19 has likely cost lives and encouraged the spread of infection.

While many may behave as though the pandemic has ended, too many in our state walk around unprotected. Only 55.4% of Kansans have received both of their initial vaccinations against the virus, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Less than a million state residents have received a booster shot. Those boosters play a critical role in protecting against severe illness and death as more variants circulate.

Consider what would have happened if Steffen took a different path.

Consider what would have happened if he promoted vaccines and science-based treatments. In central Kansas, he could have been a leader in softening the blow of the pandemic. He could have saved lives. He could have been a profile in courage during the darkest days of 2020 and 2021. He could have joined the honorable example of Salina Rep. Steven Howe, who publicly advocated for vaccination and shared his path away from skepticism.

Steffen made a different choice. He embraced conspiracy theories and political expediency.

July of 2022 is not July of 2021 or 2020. The vaccines against COVID-19 have proven themselves safe and effective. Roughly 260 million people in the United States have been vaccinated, and they haven’t mutated into werewolves or become magnetic or received radio broadcasts inside their heads from the Illuminati. They have been protected against a virus.

We also can employ effective treatments now, such as the antiviral Paxlovid. Doctors know more about the disease and don’t have to grapple in the dark to understand what’s happening. We don’t have to panic. We can keep ourselves and our families safe.

We can give up the horse paste and laying on of hands.

We can give up bullying and anti-science tirades.

But can Mark Steffen?

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics, and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.

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