TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A first-year Kansas lawmaker has been banned from a state agency's offices over alleged “disruptive, intimidating and berating behavior," eight months after receiving a written warning from a legislative committee about his conduct before taking office.
It wasn't clear Monday that Democratic state Rep. Aaron Coleman of Kansas City would face a House investigation into the incident that prompted the Kansas Department of Labor to ban him from its buildings. The committee that sent Coleman a written warning in February disbanded after issuing its letter to the 21-year-old lawmaker, and the House's rules require a member or members to file a complaint to start another inquiry.
Coleman alerted reporters over the weekend that he'd been banned and disputed the allegations contained in an Oct. 12 letter to him from Amber Shultz, the agency's top administrator. The letter concerned a Sept. 30 incident in which Coleman went to the department's main Topeka office, closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Coleman said in a YouTube video that he was trying to help constituents deal with the state's unemployment system, which earlier in the pandemic was overwhelmed by both legitimate and fraudulent claims. He called Shultz's response “troubling” and “unacceptable.”
“I won’t ever stop defending the vulnerable in my district,” Coleman said in an email to The Associated Press. “Kansans are the Boss. It’s that simple.”
The House committee's investigation of Coleman followed accusations of abusive behavior toward girls and young women before his election last year. He acknowledged some of the behavior on social media and said he'd been troubled as a teenager.
Both Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's office and the Department of Labor declined to comment Monday about Shultz's letter. The department wouldn't say whether it has banned other people from its offices.
State Sen. David Haley, a fellow Kansas City Democrat, said Monday in an interview that how elected officials choose to “vigorously defend their constituents” is a matter for their constituents, not other elected officials. Coleman named Haley as his mentor in a Sunday tweet.
Haley said among conservative gun-rights Republicans, he’s seen some “real wingnuts” and “zealots.”
“It concerns me they’re walking around here, packing heat, and talking crazy conspiracy theories,” Haley said. “But their districts sent them.”
Shultz's letter was a formal notice to Coleman of the ban and that he could face criminal trespassing charges if he attempted to enter any of the department's buildings.
The letter accused Coleman of trying to gain entry improperly to the department's main office through a secured employee entry and speaking in “a loud and demanding tone” to a security officer. The letter described Coleman as “agitated.”
“As a result of your recent attempts to gain unauthorized access to the Department of Labor facilities and your disruptive, intimidating and berating behavior toward Department of Labor employees, you are hereby notified and ordered that you no longer to enter or remain in any KDOL facility or on any KDOL premises,” the letter said.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.