By this summer, Connie Morris had made a name for herself on this side of Kansas.
A member of the Kansas State Board of Education, the conservative Republican from St. Francis — a town with 1,497 residents in the far northwestern corner of the state, just 20 miles east of the Colorado line — had publicly written off the theory of evolution in her newsletter as an “age-old fairytale.” Newspaper readers here knew her as the main antagonist of Shawnee’s Sue Gamble, one of four self-described moderate or liberal state school-board members whose voices of reason were trounced by anti-evolutionary forces and their farcical “trial” involving intelligent design — which posits a natural world too complex to exist without the influence of a higher power — this past May in Topeka.
With anti-evolution standards all but guaranteed to be written into the Kansas school curriculum, Morris and other conservative board members will try this fall, her newsletter promises, to “reclaim” sex education. The conservative majority has plans to alter a small but important section of the schools’ health standards, adding an “opt-in” provision that would require parents to sign a permission slip before their children would be taught sex ed. (Parents can already opt their children out of such classes.) Morris outlined her stance in a June newsletter to her constituents, calling for “more decorum” in health classes. “Anatomy and physiology used to be part of a rigorous health curriculum, but has long been discarded for a more sex education type of teaching,” she wrote.
Morris criticizes society for reveling “too long in the free-sex revolution.” And she’s well aware that some will call her views prudish.
If she wanted to, though, Morris could teach her own class on free sex.
She has already written the textbook.
Her 208-page tell-all autobiography, From the Darkness: One Woman’s Rise to Nobility (available on Amazon.com for as little as $3.09), reveals that she wasn’t always so conservative. Before she was Connie Morris, enemy of evolution, she was Connie Littleton, black-haired siren.
Released in February 2002 by Louisiana-based Christian imprint Huntington House Publishers, Morris’ memoir details the trials and tribulations she faced before finding salvation.
She frolicked in free love, drowned in drugs and endured domestic violence and sexual abuse before giving herself to Christ. But even Jesus couldn’t tame her.
Morris’ story isn’t unique; chronicles of deliverance from evil are as old as the Bible. It also isn’t easy to verify — Morris has either changed or omitted key names, making it impossible to track down, for example, the Kentucky politician she claimed to have had an affair with before he won statewide office in the mid-1980s.
From the Darkness provides a striking insight into the life of an elected official who has publicly claimed that she is not trying to insert religion into public-school classrooms even as she has vowed that her political career is intended solely “to lead many to Christ, so the population of Heaven will be greater because of me.” Such grandiosity pervades Morris’ book; even when writing about her life at the depth of depravity, she never tires of reminding readers that she’s pretty.
The youngest of three children, Connie Littleton was born in 1961 and grew up in a volatile home in Olive Hill, a mostly white town of about 2,000 people in eastern Kentucky. According to her book, her mother and father fought brutally — her mother threw pictures, skillets and Bibles; her father, a Primitive Baptist preacher, threw fists. Their tumultuous marriage ended in divorce in 1972, and they agreed to divide custody of the children. The mother got Cindy and Connie; the father took Billy.
In 1973, Morris writes, she was a pretty and popular 12-year-old cheerleader who changed boyfriends every few weeks. She would swap spit with her beaus in movie theaters, but she always left them stranded on first base.
In seventh grade, though, Connie went further with “Will,” a married man in his 30s who was the son-in-law of her father’s new girlfriend. “Will knew I was a virgin, and he seemed to relish the sport of slowly, yet strategically bringing me to succumb to his seduction,” she writes. “I was still afraid of intercourse, even though my revolting behavior had easily ascended me to third base and then had me trying to steal for home.”
The third-base coach wasn’t waving Will in. Family members were becoming suspicious, so Connie ended the fling.
With little parental supervision, Connie and her older sister, Cindy, “began to run the streets like whores,” she writes. “Cindy played the ever-wise protector that kept the sex-crazed guys at arm’s length…. I was pretty enough, malapert, and profoundly lost inside. I teased the boys but never allowed myself to go ‘too far.’ That seemed okay.”
In 1976, she writes, she fled her stepfather Don Clark’s sexual abuse and moved in with her father. Her freshman year, Connie dated the star basketball player, whom she refers to in the book as “Jeff Opner.” They were “the hottest couple in school” and moving fast. Jeff bought his 14-year-old squeeze an engagement ring, and they dreamed of “a fairytale wedding.” With the prospect of marriage, Connie decided it was time to punch her V-card.
“One winter night, in front of his fireplace (with his parents in the next room!), I gave way to nature and lost my purity,” she writes. “We became soul mates as well as playmates.”
For two years they played in Connie’s father’s basement, but their engagement wouldn’t survive Jeff’s graduation in 1977.
Newly single, Connie moved on to an affair with one of her high school teachers, who was “blonde, blue eyed, muscular … and married with small children.” Their lack of discretion exposed the liaison, and the affair ended abruptly when the man’s wife interrupted a rendezvous, banging on the door, screaming his name and leaving Connie hiding in a closet.
Morris also recaps her drug abuse in the late ’70s and early ’80s, sounding like a washed-up rock star as she recalls dropping acid and snorting “heroine [sic], angel dust, speed and cocaine.”
For a year, she spent nearly every night passed out in somebody’s van or on a stranger’s floor, according to the book. Although she still had plenty of sex, her partying friends were more like brothers and sisters. “Hound-like sexual behavior would have ruined it,” she writes. “Several of them were eventually killed in accidents or shot in drunken brawls. I could tell you numerous stories of how close I came to being one of them, dead and spending eternity in Hell.”
Connie graduated from high school in 1979. Before the ceremony, she writes, she dropped acid before crossing the stage to receive her diploma.
She met her future husband one night at the police station, where she’d gone to pick up her brother, Billy, after he’d been thrown in jail for driving drunk. Harvey Kissick, she writes, was a drug-addicted machinist. They became lovers and junkies, sharing needles and shooting up mixtures of heroin, cocaine and speed.
With the promise of getting clean together, Connie and Harvey married on May 2, 1981. The groom wore a black Harley-Davidson T-shirt and blue jeans; the bride wore a white blouse with black trim and blue jeans.
Soon Kissick was partying again. Even though Connie was carrying his child, she writes, he started “shoving and hitting” her. Their daughter, Jessica Lou, was born on January 2, 1982.
Around the same time, Connie decided to use the modeling certificate she had earned after high school. She wanted to expand her modeling portfolio, maybe land some jobs. She’d met a photography instructor who had offered to shoot her. During the shoot, she let go of her inhibitions and posed nude.
“I felt beautiful,” she writes. “Once he described a pose he was looking for … a hustler, erotic-type position. I hit it perfectly while he snapped away with his camera and cheered my performance. I felt vexed … undone … I quickly moved to another pose … and never produced that type of look again.”
Meanwhile, Kissick’s drunkenness and abuse escalated at home, Morris writes. But even though their sex life was fizzling, Connie learned she would have another child.
Five months’ pregnant, with a 2-year-old in tow, a weary and hopeless Connie found herself at a church service with her mother. When she kneeled at the altar and begged forgiveness, the Holy Spirit whispered to her, she writes: “How about it? Do you want to live for me?” The answer was yes. But Connie faltered. Later in the evening, she smoked a joint.
“I was sad to have flopped as a Christian so soon, but I just knew that wasn’t the end of it,” she writes. After Lacy Dawn was born, Kissick supported his family by selling drugs. Their marriage was failing, and Connie was straying. She’d taken cosmetology and reflexology classes and started working in a beauty shop, where she met “Jack B.,” a 50-something politician “in the heat of a campaign.” A flirty relationship blossomed into “a full-blown affair” after a reflexology house call but ended after Jack won his race and moved to Frankfort, the Kentucky state capital. A short time later, in 1987, Connie and Kissick divorced.
Now 25 and a single mother, Connie was dating again. According to her book, she clicked on her first date with a “short, chubby and balding” gospel musician named “Damion B.”
“Every Sunday I went to the altar with a broken heart and begged for strength to quit ‘fooling around.’ I would emerge with smeared makeup and a swollen face but determined to stay strong … which lasted until Friday night’s date when both our desires started screaming for attention,” she writes. “Couldn’t an attractive, young mother, alone in her own home late at night, make an exception to the rules of holiness?”
Morris declined the Pitch‘s requests for an interview. She did not return phone messages, and her e-mail address returns this automatic response:
“Thank you for emailing! Please know that I make a sincere effort to read every correspondence that comes my way, however it has become impossible to personally respond to every contact. I deeply appreciate your support and the valuable information that you may provide. Input from each and every individual is important. PS: The KSBE is NOT seeking to implement Religion in public schools. My hope is to simply encourage criticisms of Evolution — as the evidence to do so abounds. Be well! — Connie Morris.”
In From the Darkness, Morris seems to have applied a sort of vengeful literary logic, naming alleged abusers Don Clark and Harvey Kissick but protecting the names of other men. Clark died in the early 1990s, and Kissick, who still lives in Olive Hill, has disconnected the only phone number listed under his name.
When contacted by the Pitch, Jeff Oney, identified in Morris’ book as Jeff Opner — one-half of “the hottest couple” at Olive Hill’s West Carter High School — declined to discuss his role in supposedly deflowering Connie Littleton.
Though Morris doesn’t name them, the Pitch tracked down her father, William Littleton, and her mother, Violet Mabry.
Morris’ family members have mixed feelings about the book. Before it was published, Morris sent them each a manuscript and a letter asking for their thoughts.
“The book is not something we discuss around my dad, and I know my mother has some misgivings about it, but again, that just goes back to she prefers keeping things private,” Morris’ older sister, Cindy Brooks, tells the Pitch. “My brother [Billy] felt like it was things that didn’t need to be said.
“It was a time in our family that we all had to kind of step back and see how we felt about each other with all of those things being public,” Brooks adds. “It ended up just like we know our family to be — unconditional love. And we all love each other unconditionally, whether we agree with each other or not.”
Brooks says she cried when she read the book. So did Violet Mabry.
William Littleton claims he didn’t know his daughter had written it. But he tells the Pitch he’d like to read it. “She was just rough,” Littleton says. “But don’t blame her for that. It was my fault and her mom’s fault.”
Littleton disputes his daughter’s claim that he was a boozer and an abuser, though he says he recalls hitting his wife once — on her arm. Never in her face. And never with his fist.
“Whatever she says in her book, that’s between her [and her] conscience,” Littleton says. “I hope she didn’t write anything wrong. But if she did, she shouldn’t have, even if she is my daughter.”
Morris’ mother also downplays Connie’s account of her abusive first marriage, though she admits that she clashed “two or three times” with Littleton and claims he hit her. Mabry says she didn’t hear Connie’s claims of Clark’s sexual abuse until much later.
“But that’s the way she saw it, so I let it go at that,” Mabry tells the Pitch. “I think she sees a lot of things different really from what they were.”
Mabry says it was the broken home that caused her daughter’s wild streak. “That made her kind of hyper and mad at the world,” she says. But, she adds, those issues have since been resolved. Now she sees her daughter as a woman driven by God.
“She’s really a true Christian,” she says.
Connie had finally turned her life around by the time she was 28, she writes. She was praying in tongues and letting the Holy Spirit have its way with her. “I started speaking praises to God in an unintelligible, surrealistic, divine language!” she writes. “That was exciting enough, but instantly all colors around me became crisper and brighter.”
Connie also had met Kelly Morris, a nice guy who’d moved to Kentucky from northwestern Kansas. The two married on October 12, 1990.
And Connie enrolled in the elementary education program at Kentucky’s Morehead State University. Her stint in philosophy class seems to have foreshadowed her future in politics; she frustrated the professor and angered her classmates.
“While debating the evidence present in proof of God’s omnitude [sic], I wondered out loud how he (the instructor) could explain away (which is what he was trying to do) the way God changes people,” she writes in her memoir. “‘For instance,’ I was half playing as I continued, ‘I used to be a heavy drinker and abused drugs, but my relationship with Jesus radically changed my desires and even physical addictions. How do you suppose that could happen without a sovereign, all-powerful and loving entity?’
“Some girl from the back spoke up in a ‘valley-girl’ accent,” she continues. “Chirping like an irritating bird, she said, ‘Well, maybe it was a transference of addiction.’ At first I was upset that she would belittle something so miraculous, likening my relationship with Jesus to my relationship with sin. But then I guess I was addicted to Jesus. I needed him worse than I needed drugs. I considered it a good thing to be addicted to serving, loving, worshipping, and examining Jesus. I had to have Him, for without Him I preferred death.”
In 1992, Kelly and Connie moved to Kansas to take over Kelly’s parents’ farm in St. Francis. Still, Connie was hurting. At a church service in Goodland, a speaker had asked parishioners to write down what they wanted most from God. Connie wrote, “I wish I had never been abused and raped.” Then, she writes, the spirit of the Lord whispered to her, “I want you to thank me that you were abused.” She was taken aback.
“Had He been a human I might have slapped Him!” she writes. “How dare He make such a request! … But I knew the moment was mine to grab, if only I had the nerve.”
Out of sight from the rest of her family, she sneaked to the back of the church, where two women prayed for her soul. Connie felt pain rip through her belly. “The Lord pulled away heartache after heartache, until I finally screamed in agony,” she writes.
Now, she writes, “I thank God I was abused … So I could become who I am and write this for you.”
In St. Francis, Connie and Kelly became youth-group counselors for the Assembly of God Church. When they chaperoned a Colorado ski trip for 11 teenagers, Connie felt compelled to share her story of molestation with the kids.
“I chose to expose and give away a precious part of my soul as I haltingly shared with them how ‘my wakeup call was his finger in my vagina,'” she writes. “They weren’t shocked, they hear that kind of language every day. I explained that I wanted desperately to protect them from the same scars and memories that try to plague my life. They could see my heart as I begged them to preserve themselves till marriage.”
The teens may not have been surprised, but a few parents and the pastor were. They decided to strip Kelly and Connie of their youth-group duties — because, Connie writes in Darkness, she had used the word vagina.
The teens cried, tried to fight for them, Connie writes, but it was useless.
No matter. Connie had a higher calling.
Morris sought to serve God in the political arena.
“The plea of my existence in politics is that I may speak as would please the Lord, with no careless words, but rather with purest truth, without flattery, deceit and lies,” Morris writes in From the Darkness. “I am not entering politics so my district/state/nation may become greater, but rather, to lead many to Christ, so the population of Heaven will be greater because of me. My past has established within me conviction and tenacity … now I am compelled … I am empowered to fight for others.”
But Morris’ campaigns and her behavior since taking office have been notable precisely for their careless words, deceit and lies.
Though she reports being “empowered to fight for others,” those others did not include Hispanic children during her 2002 campaign.
In the district Morris sought to represent, the Hispanic population has nearly doubled since 1990. In three of the district’s four largest cities — Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal — the Hispanic population makes up nearly half of the total population, according to census data from 2000.
If she won, Morris pledged, she would fight to prohibit the children of undocumented immigrants from attending public schools, defying a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that every child is entitled to a public education.
Outraged Hispanic groups petitioned Morris to withdraw from the race. She refused and released a statement cementing her views and preying on post-9/11 fears. She wrote of 6-year-old children training to become terrorists, possibly on American soil.
“Senior citizens often work part-time just to pay bills — yet the illegal alien is provided a free education, welfare, food stamps, medical care,” she wrote in September 2002. “We cannot afford to continue to be held hostage to this kind of loose and unpatriotic expenditure of the American dollar.”
Her challenger in that summer’s primary was Sonny Rundell, a moderate Republican from Syracuse. He admits he underestimated her, conceding that he rested on his reputation — 14 years on the state board of education — and that Morris out-campaigned him.
“She was probably in every county fair,” he says.
Actually, 21 fairs. According to her Web site, Morris logged 15,661 miles traveling to parades, rodeos and meetings and posted 10,000 yard signs.
After Morris defeated him in the August primary, Rundell re-entered the race as a write-in candidate. He says school officials had urged him to run, and he wasn’t ready to give up the fight.
On Election Day, Morris squashed him with 79 percent of the vote.
Even after she was elected, Morris’ actions didn’t conform to “the plea” of her existence in politics, that she speak “with no careless words, but rather with purest truth, without flattery, deceit and lies.”
In December 2002, Morris sent an e-mail to an anti-immigration group claiming that Garden City’s then-mayor, Tim Cruz, was an illegal alien.
Morris apparently became upset with Cruz after she was forced to cancel a From the Darkness book-signing event in Garden City. (Cruz had received a call from a would-be picketer and approached the store manager about his concerns about the planned protest.)
“It was really like a hate group,” Cruz says of the Emigration Party of Nevada, which included Morris’ statements in a newsletter e-mailed to its members. “I was concerned, not only for myself but my family, because you never know how people who read that stuff take it, and a lot of things could happen. Of course, nothing did. But you never know in today’s world.”
The Emigration Party’s e-mail made the rounds from the county commissioners to the newspapers to the TV stations.
“I find it appalling that a person can break the law and enter the country illegally and end up as mayor,” Morris told the Associated Press.
When questioned by reporters, Morris said she’d had a phone conversation with Cruz in which he admitted to being a “past illegal immigrant.”
Cruz, however, is a third-generation resident of Garden City. His parents were born in the United States; he was born at St. Catherine Hospital in 1959 and graduated from Garden City High School in 1977.
Cruz served eight years on the city council and has twice been elected mayor. He also serves on several boards, including the Garden City Chamber of Commerce, the League of United Latin American Citizens and the Kansas State Historical Society.
“At first, I thought, what’s this lady’s problem?” Cruz tells the Pitch. “Because I hadn’t done nothing to her.”
Morris stood by her erroneous statement, bad-mouthing Cruz for weeks in the press while he repeatedly denied that he had ever been an illegal alien. Finally, Morris called Cruz and asked if she owed him an apology. He told her it was up to her. She apologized. Later, she told The Kansas City Star: “It was unintentional, but regretfully it appears I passed along inaccurate information.”
But apparently, Morris hadn’t learned her lesson about using careless words.
Last fall, a University of Kansas film student named Ranjit Arab was making a documentary on the controversy over educating the children of undocumented immigrants.
After Morris turned down several of Arab’s requests for an interview, he showed up at a state school board meeting with his cameras rolling and asked to speak with her. Again, she declined.
On October 4, Morris told The Hutchinson News that she had reported Arab to the FBI to protect herself from “any possible stalking or terroristic behavior.” She claimed that Arab was “aggressive and violent.” (Arab’s footage clearly refutes this allegation; he appears in the hallway and questions her as any television news reporter might do; later, he makes a statement about Morris’ views on immigration from a microphone set up in the boardroom. During a break, Morris hides in a ladies’ room.)
Like she had done with Cruz, Morris made false allegations against an adversary with a non-Anglo last name.
Arab says FBI officials would not tell him whether he had been placed on a terrorist watch list; eventually, he filed a Freedom of Information Act request, and the FBI replied that there was no record of a complaint.
“Nonetheless, she got to say that to reporters. She got to put that out there and basically smear my name,” Arab tells the Pitch. “That’s her M.O. If you dare to even challenge her on her views as a public candidate or official, she turns around and smears your reputation.”
Shawnee board member Sue Gamble found herself a target of Morris’ personal attacks after the evolution-versus-intelligent-design debate. In her June newsletter ripping moderate and liberal board members (which earned Morris more headlines, mainly because taxpayers covered the newsletter’s $166 tab), Morris denied “inserting creationism or intelligent design into the [science] standards” and referred to evolution as “poor science — with anti-God contempt and arrogance.”
Gamble, Morris wrote, “is continually most disruptive and rude as she repeatedly ignores statements made moments before as she’s vexed for ways to entangle a discussion or make it about religion and in her view — therefore a fowl [sic].” (The state school board member was either oblivious to her grammar problems or had found a subversive way to call Gamble a chickenshit.)
“I’ll disagree with her quite openly about different issues and have, but I still try to do that in a respectful manner,” Gamble tells the Pitch. She adds that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to do so. “Some members are more and more openly hostile,” she says.
Morris didn’t deny the attack. “Oh, yes, there were attacks, but that’s part of the game, isn’t it?” she told The Topeka Capital-Journal. “That’s part of informing people what is going on.”
Perhaps. But it was a long way from Morris’ pledge to avoid flattery, deceit and lies.
This spring, Morris committed an unforgivable sin. Not by scapegoating immigrants or ripping evolutionary theory, though.
Her real offense? Living large at a Miami hotel on taxpayer dollars.
In June, other board members called for an inquiry into Morris’ travel expenses after she turned in an expense report for an April trip to a magnet-school conference in Miami. Taxpayers paid $339 a night for Morris’ six-night stay in an ocean-view suite at the convention hotel, the Fontainebleau Hilton Resort. She told reporters that she was unable to get the convention rate and had refused to stay at another hotel. In addition to the $2,034 total bill for her stay, she turned in expenses for two taxi rides totaling $147.
The real insult to the hypervigilant taxpayers of Kansas: Although Morris had spent their money to attend a magnet-school conference, board members complained, there are no magnet schools in her district.
“[In her district] there’s hundreds that can afford to stay at a $339 a night hotel, but they won’t,” a Kansas education expert tells the Pitch. “And so for her to do that with public money, that’s what’s going to probably do her in. That may be the most damaging thing Connie has done.”
Last week, Morris said she had reimbursed the state for the expenses. Her statement to the media was artfully worded, if nonsensical: “No amount of media bullying can take from the good people I serve the vision and knowledge gained from the conference. God says avoid the appearance of wrongdoing. My dad says that if you want to know the character of a man, look in his billfold. I prefer to take the higher ground.”
When Morris enters the boardroom for the Kansas State Board of Education’s meeting in July, her black hair looks wet, hurriedly thrown behind her head. She wears light-orange pants and a yellow top with a long-sleeved orange sweater wrapped around her waist. She sips from a McDonald’s cup; it’s 9:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the meeting. She sits down, looks in her compact and carefully applies lipstick.
Before the meeting, the Pitch asked Morris if she’d be willing to discuss how her life experiences might benefit the students of Kansas, especially when it comes to sex education.
She didn’t have time, she said. Not right then — she had to set up her laptop. Not during lunch — she had a policy committee meeting to review her travel expenses, her newsletter and her board conduct. And probably not the next day — the meeting started early, and then she’d be taking off.
But during a break, Morris approaches a reporter with a handwritten note. On Kansas State Board of Education letterhead, in carefully scripted cursive, she has written, “My life’s experiences are in play in every decision I make.”