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Republicans attack Gov. Kelly’s court nominee over partisan, profane Twitter posts

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, left, introduces Jeffry Jack, right, as her nominee for a seat on the state Court of Appeals, during a news conference March 15 at the Statehouse in Topeka. Jack is a Labette County district court judge who previously served in the Kansas House.
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, left, introduces Jeffry Jack, right, as her nominee for a seat on the state Court of Appeals, during a news conference March 15 at the Statehouse in Topeka. Jack is a Labette County district court judge who previously served in the Kansas House. AP

Kansas Republicans are raising red flags over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominee to the state’s second-highest court, saying he has a history of bashing state and federal GOP leaders.

Kelly nominated Labette County Judge Jeffry L. Jack on Friday. Jack, a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives from 2003 to 2005, would fill a vacancy left by retired Judge Patrick McAnany on the state Court of Appeals.

Before Jack takes the bench, he must undergo a confirmation hearing and vote by the Republican-controlled Senate. But GOP leaders are pointing to an apparent Twitter account for Jack with inflammatory comments that sometimes include F-bombs.

The account was created in 2011 but has been mostly dormant since 2017. Tweets frequently and vehemently voiced opposition to President Donald Trump, Fox News, and other conservative political leaders.

“If you see this picture and don’t see an asshole, we have a very different view of the world,” the account tweeted on April 15, 2017, in reply to a 1990s photo of Trump feeding his then-wife Marla Maples a bunch of grapes.

Michael Kuckelman, chairman of the Kansas Republican party, said he was surprised by the tweets when he saw them Monday morning. He expected Kelly to choose someone more centrist, he said, because of her non-partisan campaign rhetoric.

“She was going to be reaching across the aisle, and I frankly haven’t seen the evidence of that and I certainly don’t see it with this particular candidate,” Kuckelman said. “And that’s troubling to me.”

In an interview early Monday afternoon, Kelly said she had found out about the opposition to Jack that morning.

“I’ve got a lot more investigation to do and I’ve got some of my staff looking into it now, but we’ll just have to see,” Kelly said.

Kelly spokeswoman Ashley All said the governor’s office was unaware of the Twitter account.

Jack did not respond to requests for comment. The account’s profile photo is that of the judge and it has posted photos of Jack with what appear to be his family members at baseball games in 2016.

In one instance, the account tweets about a basketball game between Harvard University and the University of Kansas, Jack’s two alma maters.

According to the Twitter account, Jack had a habit of telling lawmakers just what he thought of their policies. A May 2017 tweet to then-Congressman Kevin Yoder criticized the Republican lawmaker for his vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act.

“My child has pre-existing condition, diabetes. Couldn’t be denied affordable coverage under ACA. F--k you for your vote,” the tweet said.

The account has also tweeted “f--k you,” to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza.

Jack, 57, received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and a J.D. from the University of Kansas School of Law. After serving in the Kansas House, he was nominated to the 11th Judicial District by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. In the 2016 election, 68 percent of voters opted to retain the judge.

Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said Monday that she will strongly oppose Jack’s nomination to the Court of Appeals.

“His long history of promoting gun control, pro-abortion rhetoric, constant criticism of President Trump, and partisan politics should disqualify him for a position on one of our state’s highest courts,” Wagle said in a statement.

Sen. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat who attended a Friday news conference where Kelly nominated Jack, said some of the tweets do not demonstrate a proper judicial temperament.

“If these are genuine, I find them to be deeply troubling coming from a sitting judge,” Miller said.

In a statement regarding her appointment of the judge, Kelly said Jack was chosen from a list of finalists recommended by a committee of lawyers and non-lawyers, and that the choice was based on merit.

“Our judges must ensure that every Kansan who encounters our courts is treated fairly under the law,” Kelly said in a statement. “That requires integrity, impartiality, and a sense of how our courts impact the lives of Kansans every day. Judge Jack will bring those qualities to the Court of Appeals.”

Kelly told reporters on Friday that she had not discussed Jack’s position on issues, such as abortion, before nominating him.

“We did not go down that path,” Kelly said.

When he was nominated Friday, Jack said he “will continue to work diligently to honor the faith the governor has placed in me” as his nomination progresses. He said he looked forward to working with the Senate.

The tweets have raise an all-too-common conundrum in the age of social media and politics: Should officials be held accountable for spouting controversial opinions online?

“I don’t think these are hanging offenses necessarily,” said Burdett Loomis, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas. “You can say something on Twitter as a private citizen. On the other hand, if you’re going to apply for a judgeship, I think the entirety of your record is relevant.”

While it remains unclear whether Kelly’s administration vetted the judge’s online presence, Loomis said in this day and age, “that seems nuts not to have looked at his Facebook account, looked at his Twitter account, what have you.”

Concerns about Jack’s controversial tweets come a day after a Kansas Department of Transportation employee was fired for calling Trump a “delusional communist,” on the agency’s official Twitter account. The tweet was deleted within hours, but not before GOP leaders used it to criticize the governor.

Ultimately, Kuckelman said he expects the partisan nature of the tweets to cause major problems for Jack.

“Things change as you go up to the Court of Appeals because you start addressing some of the constitutional issues more frequently,” he said. “And that can be more problematic when you have these kinds of views espoused in advance.”

Lara Korte helps cover Kansas politics for the Kansas City Star. She is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism and political science.
Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.