There’s something baffling about the hanky-panky with the interns in the Missouri General Assembly, where the speaker of the House and a state senator were recently forced to resign. Why hasn’t the same behavior reared its ugly head right next door in the Kansas Legislature?
Consider all the lame excuses for what’s been going on in Jefferson City, even as far back as 1974, according to U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who interned and claims she was sexually harassed.
We are told the Missouri legislators (a) live in a bubble; (b) are far away from home; and (c) are puffed up with power. Some would add (d) boys will be boys.
None of that is unique to Jefferson City.
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Kansas legislators meet in Topeka, which is remote to much of the state and an hour’s drive from Kansas City. Nearly all who do not represent Topeka or surrounding communities make arrangements to stay in Topeka during the session. So, like Missouri legislators, they are away from home.
Kansas legislators also work and live in a bubble when sessions are underway. The majestic domed Capitol, which can give one a heady feeling, is not much different from the Missouri Capitol.
There are just as many power trips among Kansas legislators as those in Missouri. They can mold Kansas life about any way they want, and in these days, frequently do. Like Missouri, Kansas has a lopsided Republican majority in both chambers, so leadership is particularly powerful.
And if boys will be boys, for some reason the boys in Topeka are not out of control with their interns. They behave themselves, just as they should.
Kansas Speaker Pro Tem Peggy Mast of Emporia oversees the Kansas legislative intern program. I asked her if she had ever heard a complaint about sexual harassment of interns.
She said she knows of none during her four years in this position, nor has she ever heard of past indiscretions. She explained that there is an intern coordinator in both the House and Senate. Furthermore, new interns receive extensive training, and there are strict policies in place. Interns know they should report concerns to their coordinator or to Mast.
Martin Hawver, publisher of the Hawver Capitol Report, who has been reporting on Kansas Legislature for more than 40 years, said he has never heard a word about misbehavior with interns.
Hawver believes the large number of women in leadership roles in the Kansas Legislature, as well as many female chiefs of staff, may set a different tone in Topeka.
I took this quandary to several veteran Kansas legislators. Why would Kansas be as clean as a whistle, while Missouri seems to have perpetual intern issues?
None but one had a clue. One person speculated that since Missouri allows unlimited gifts from lobbyists, while Kansas has strict restrictions, Missouri operates on an “anything goes” attitude. Not a bad theory.
Also, there may be a real difference in how women are viewed within each of the two states.
I can’t help but note Kansas has elected more women to high government office. Two of the last five governors in Kansas were women, plus Kansas elected a female U.S. senator in 1978 (and one was appointed in 1996). Missouri has never elected a woman governor and only recently McCaskill became its first elected woman U.S. senator.
Harkening back even further, Kansas was the first state to hold a referendum on women’s suffrage in 1867. Kansas passed women’s right to vote in 1912, eight years prior to the U.S. constitutional amendment. Missouri, by contrast, defeated a similar campaign in 1914 with a 76 percent majority. Missouri passed limited suffrage (allowing women to vote for president and vice president) only in 1919, just one month before the 19th Amendment provided the same right to all qualified U.S. women.
Is there a link between this history and the question of how the two states differ in their treatment of interns?
That’s hard to say. But the questions have to be asked.
And Missouri legislators need to look themselves in the mirror. Something fundamentally wrong is going on.
To reach Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist, send email to email@example.com.