Top Kansas House Democrat: Staffer faces discipline over tweets

The top Democrat in the Kansas House promised Thursday that he'll discipline a staffer who has been posting disparaging tweets about Republican legislators.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence said he'll take an unspecified “course of administrative action” against Tyler Longpine, his director of special projects.

Longpine confirmed in a statement that he'd been posting messages under the Twitter social media tag John Brown's Ghost. Longpine said he tweeted under the tag without the knowledge of Davis or other members of his staff.

A tweet Wednesday compared unnamed state senators to “My crazy wing-nut uncle.” Other lawmakers have been disparaged by name, and the tweets occasionally contained vulgar language. Longpine said Thursday that he maintained the account on his personal cellphone and that he has stopped tweeting under the tag.

“I offer my apologies to anyone my actions have offended,” Longpine said in his statement. “I am solely responsible for the content and I should not have posted this content online.”

Davis said he didn't learn that Longpine was sending the tweets until Thursday. Longpine is a former spokesman for the Kansas Democratic Party and the secretary of state's office, and he's worked for Davis since May 2012.

The John Brown's Ghost feed on Twitter shows that tweets have been posted at least since May 2012. Some tweets criticize lawmakers' personal appearances and occasionally question their personal conduct. The Twitter feed shows John Brown's Ghost had 153 followers as of Thursday afternoon.

“This type of behavior by a legislative employee is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Davis said in a statement.

Longpine's posting under the John Brown's Ghost tag did not come to light until Tuesday, when he inadvertently posted the same tweet about Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King under that tag and a personal one. Longpine's use of the John Brown's Ghost tag was first reported online Thursday by the Topeka Capital-Journal.

The tweet linked to a story in the newspaper about allegations Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss made against King in a letter to the state's district court judges.

Nuss wrote that King met last week with several district court judges and “suggested” a link between potentially favorable action on judicial budget issues and judges' views on a proposal to require Senate confirmation of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals members. King, an Independence Republican who also serves as Senate vice president, has been a key supporter of the judicial selection proposal.

The chief justice was not at the meeting with King, but his general counsel was. King has said the allegations are unfounded and called for an apology from Nuss.

Longpine's tweet linked to the newspaper story compared King's actions to extortion. It read, “Extort a judge. That'll end well, Jeff.”

King said he didn't know about the tweet until Thursday and described it as “unfortunate.” He said he appreciates Davis' actions. He said public officials or their staffers “need to avoid baseless personal attacks.”

“I hope we can move past this, have a better dialogue and get the state's business done,” he said.

The disclosure that Longpine was posting the John Brown's Ghost tweets came six months after a Kansas Court of Appeals research attorney was fired for posting disparaging tweets about former Attorney General Phill Kline during a Supreme Court hearing into an ethics complaint against Kline.

In November 2011, a high school senior tweeted derogatory remarks about Republican Gov. Sam Brownback during a program in Topeka.

The governor's office contacted the program's organizers, and the young woman's principal later demanded that she apologize in writing. Thousands of people rushed to her defense online, and she refused. Brownback later apologized, saying his staff had “overreacted.”