Government & Politics

Lawmaker accused of child abuse faces primary challenger who grew up in foster care

Kansas House candidate Patrick Penn
Kansas House candidate Patrick Penn Patrick Penn

A Republican who grew up in foster care will challenge Wichita Rep. Michael Capps, who was elected after allegations of child abuse against him became public.

Patrick Penn, a former Army captain, announced his campaign Monday, saying he is “compelled to run for this position to bring integrity and decency back” to House District 85. The district, in northeast Sedgwick and western Butler counties, includes parts of Wichita, Bel Aire, Kechi and Benton.

Penn, who spent time in foster care in Florida and Virginia, said his experience as a child contributed to his decision to enter the race.

“You can’t take advantage of the most vulnerable among us in their most vulnerable state,” Penn said. “If those allegations are as I’ve read them in news reports to be true, I don’t see how any person in good conscience … wouldn’t have the decency to step aside or quit the field.”

Capps has called the allegations “categorically false and untrue.” In response to Penn’s candidacy, Capps said he is focused on his job as representative and noted he had been elected less than a year ago.

“There will be plenty of time for campaigning, but there are issues far more serious for our state than whether or not Mr. Penn is running against me. The people of the 85th deserve my best and that’s what they’ll continue to get,” Capps said in a statement.

An investigation by the Kansas Department for Children and Families previously found that Capps had emotionally abused boys. DCF confirmed the existence of the investigation in August 2018. Capps, who was first appointed to the House seat to fill a vacancy before being elected to it in November, immediately faced calls to resign.

The allegations involved Capps’ time as a court-appointed special advocate volunteer. DCF said it had investigated Capps and affirmed he had been emotionally abusive. It didn’t say when the abuse had occurred.

The Office of Administrative Hearings ultimately reversed the findings because of a technical error. But DCF has said the reversal didn’t address the underlying facts found.

Capps, in addition to calling the allegations untrue, has said they were made in retaliation after he told DCF a foster parent was putting children at risk by allowing a registered sex offender in her house.

On Monday, Capps hinted that he may make an issue of Penn’s status as a relative newcomer to Kansas, saying he welcomed Penn “to the state of Kansas and the race.”

Penn has been living in Kansas since August 2017 and is currently a substitute teacher but has worked as a program manager for Textron Aviation Defense. Before that, while in the Army, he served multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Penn said he holds Kansas values and said he trusts voters to make the right decision. He described himself as a fiscal and social conservative.

“These are our values. We share those values,” Penn said.

Penn hasn’t previously held elected office.

Capps was appointed to the House in 2018 after local Republican precinct members selected him following Chuck Weber’s resignation to lead the Kansas Catholic Conference.

He ran unopposed in the Republican primary. In the general election, he defeated Democrat Monica Marks, 53.98 percent to 46.02 percent.

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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.