Kansas politics: still dumber than you think

The cover story in last week’s Pitch reported on the Kansas Legislature’s rush to ban fake marijuana (Peter Rugg’s “Fake Reefer Madness”). It also exposed a hypocritical disconnect in lawmakers’ efforts to supposedly protect the people of Kansas.

It took members of the Kansas House and Senate about two weeks to ban a substance that they knew nothing about — except that teenagers were smoking it and maybe it got some of those kids high. There have been virtually no scientific studies documenting any dangerous effects from smoking the synthetic cannabinoids, which are ingredients in the fake weed known as K2.

Meanwhile, legislators can’t seem to find it within themselves to ban a substance that everyone knows kills people. Despite the well-documented dangers of tobacco and the clear public-health benefits of smoking bans, lawmakers are stalling on the issue again this year. Most recently, they’ve dicked around with a measure that would let business owners buy permits to let their patrons light up.

Far be it from Kansas lawmakers to interfere with a few smokers dying. But God forbid any kids smoke fake pot.

“Nothing surprises me,” says former state Sen. David Wysong, a Mission Hills Republican who tried unsuccessfully for several years to pass a public smoking ban. Wysong sponsored legislation known as the Kansas Clean Indoor Air Act in 2007, 2008 and 2009. His bills passed in the Senate twice but not the House; last December, Wysong resigned his seat “due to family considerations.”

Wysong has followed the K2 news. “I was surprised that it got through that fast, when the smoking ban has taken four years,” he says. “But, again, nothing surprises. Obviously the House leadership wanted it [the K2 ban] and the House leadership does not want Clean Indoor Air.”

The leader of the House Health and Human Services Committee sure doesn’t want it: Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita, is one of those pushing for the “compromise” that would let business owners pay their way out of a smoking ban. At last count, Landwehr had banked $3,000 in campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.

In fact, according to records on file at the Kansas Ethics Commission, the main tobacco interests that regularly contribute to Kansas politicians — Altria (Philip Morris’ parent company), Philip Morris, Reynolds American and R.J. Reynolds — have donated a total of $19,250 to 18 of the 23 members of the House Health and Human Services committee.

Meanwhile, there’s no record of campaign contributions from lobbies for teenagers and head shops.

The Man Who Wasn’t There

Kansas state Sen. Tom Holland announced his candidacy for Kansas governor last week. Not long after the 48-year-old Baldwin City Democrat declared himself, the Kansas Republican Party welcomed him to the fray with a laugh and a sneer. In a press release, the Sunflower State’s GOP said it planned not to take Holland seriously.

Kansas Republican Party Executive Director Ashley McMillan said in the statement: “It makes no sense to run an Obama-Pelosi liberal candidate statewide in Kansas in 2010. More likely, today’s announcement is a precursor to the real Democratic candidate who will emerge in a few months.”

The real candidate? In a follow-up phone conversation last week, McMillan told The Pitch not to get too attached to Holland.

“They’ve drug every Tom, Dick and Harry against Sen. [Sam] Brownback,” McMillan said. “In fact, I think this is the second Tom.”

Well, yeah, Tom Wiggans’ run was short-lived. So who is the real candidate?

“If you look at background, it points to [current Kansas Gov. Mark] Parkinson,” McMillan said. “Although he said he isn’t running, that’s who it would appear to be…. Tom Holland doesn’t appear to be the candidate that they were looking for, hoping for, at this point in time.”

But Holland’s people say Kansas Republicans better get used to hearing his name.

“Tom Holland is in this to win it,” Frances Gorman Graves, a Holland representative, tells The Pitch.

Let the games begin.

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