Rep. Paul Waggoner, a Republican from Hutchinson, appears during a Feb. 1, 2021, committee hearing at the Statehouse in Topeka. He is seeking reelection against Democrat Garth Strand. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Sam Neill, a decorated public school teacher from Buhler, was alarmed Saturday to find Rep. Paul Waggoner taking photos of her house.
Neill described the ensuing encounter with Waggoner, a Republican who is seeking reelection, and a campaign volunteer in a widely circulated post on her personal Facebook page.
Waggoner wouldn’t tell her why he was taking the photos, and he didn’t respond to a phone call and email seeking comment for this story. His Democratic opponent, Garth Strand, said others in the central Kansas district have voiced similar complaints about Waggoner.
One resident reported seeing Waggoner place a campaign sign in his yard and take photos and video with it. Video obtained by Kansas Reflector shows Waggoner standing next to his own sign, appearing to take a selfie.
Neill is a communication arts and journalism teacher at Buhler High School. She was the 2018 Kansas Teacher of the Year and a 2021 Lowell Milken Center fellow, a prestigious national honor. She also is an outspoken critic of so-called “Parents Bill of Rights” legislation, which Waggoner supported.
“I wonder what will become of the pictures of my house?” Neill wrote. “Will they be shared somehow? Is this how constituents should be treated? When I asked questions about this, he did not give me a real answer. He walked away.”
Waggoner told her he was “just getting the whole picture,” Neill wrote. She assumed she was targeted because she has a Strand sign in her yard.
In a phone interview, Strand said Waggoner took photos of Neill’s house because she is a registered Republican.
“It seems Mr. Waggoner is hunting RINOs or something,” Strand said.
RINO is an acronym for “Republican in name only.”
Strand said he has never taken a photo of a constituent’s house.
“I would not feel comfortable doing that. And if I wanted to, I would certainly ask their permission,” Strand said. “His behavior as an elected public servant to do something like that is very odd. And as you can tell by the comments, there’s a lot of people who share that feeling.”
In her Facebook post, Neill said a campaign volunteer was following Waggoner from a block away.
“When she walked by, I asked her why he might need a picture of my house,” Neill wrote. “She said she didn’t know. She then asked me if I was Sam Neill. I replied that I was. At that point her responses became very short. She said, anyone can take a picture of anyone’s house. She invited me to go take a picture of Representative Waggoner’s house if I wanted. As she walked off, she hollered back, ‘I am sure we can act like adults and not make a big deal of this.’ ”
More than 100 people shared Neill’s post, which had more than 100 comments on it by Monday morning.
Allison Reed identified herself as the campaign volunteer in a reply to Neill’s post. Reed then commented another 35 times.
“I had no knowledge of the event and you were demanding I answer your questions,” Reed wrote. “I was absolutely stunned. I asked who you were because I wanted to make sure who I was talking to. My answers were short because I had no idea what was going on. You don’t want a debate on social media but yet you’re willing to smear the name of a elected official you’ve never supported and a campaign volunteer you don’t know either. Seriously? As adults, we can’t do better than this?”
Shana Segat responded: “You got caught engaging in potentially threatening behavior. Verbally accosted, you might have deserved, dear. Be a better person.”
Several people described Waggoner’s behavior as “creepy.”
Ashley Showalter wrote: “What in the world! 🤯🤯🤯 that is awful. In no way is this ok. That is seriously creepy.”
In another comment, Josh Zimbelman described an encounter at his house in Hutchinson.
“Paul and another gentlemen stopped at my house, put a sign in my yard, took pictures and videos, then took the sign out of my yard,” Zimbelman wrote. “Super weird incident.”
Waggoner, of Hutchinson, has served two terms in the House. His past comments about women have been the subject of controversy.
In April 2019, the Hutchinson News reported Waggoner used the derogatory term “harpies” to refer to women while considering an invitation to speak at meetings of the Hutchinson chapter of Women for Kansas.
Earlier this year, Kansas Reflector reported on Waggoner’s comments on the House floor about how men earn higher wages than women because they work harder.
Strand has criticized Waggoner for not participating in public debates during this election cycle, including those organized by the local Chamber of Commerce and Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen.
“Garth is unable to be an ‘effective leader’ for the people of the 104th because he doesn’t see the world as they do,” Waggoner wrote in a Sunday post from his campaign’s Facebook page. “He could only serve if he was consistently deceptive about his real opinions.”
Strand said he thinks Waggoner’s behavior with Neill on Saturday will have an effect on Tuesday’s vote.
“It’s a sign of his character and his level of leadership that he provides,” Strand said. “People have to make a decision about that.”
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