Yael T. Abouhalkah

Cartoonist portrays Kansas lawmaker as Hitler for trying to stifle free speech

Common sense and an understanding of the First Amendment aren’t exactly Virgil Peck’s strong suit.

Peck, a Tyro Republican in the Kansas House, has been in the news lately for supporting a bill that would prohibit higher education employees from using their titles if they want to criticize politicians in a newspaper opinion column.

At a hearing Wednesday in Topeka, Peck said, “I want it to be known publicly, for any fruitcake that may want to write something about me, I did not author the bill.”

But he then went on to defend the probably blatantly unconstitutional bill that would apply to writings about “a person who currently holds any elected public office in this state, a person who is a candidate for any elected public office in this state or any matter pending before any legislative or public body in this state.”

Also this week, Peck harshly criticized higher education officials for daring to ask for more money for their programs. He asked that a subcommittee report note “the absurdity of some of the enhancement requests.”

Notice the irony?

Here’s Peck, using his publicly paid office and title, while lashing out at others for daring to criticize him or even ask the state for public funds.

Yet he doesn’t appear to want to be on the receiving end of any printed opposition to what he says and does.

Enter Steve McBride, publisher and cartoonist for the Independence Daily Reporter, which circulates in Peck’s district.

A few days ago, McBride penned a cartoon that depicted Peck as Hitler, saying, “We will not tolerate the idea of free speech for university employees.”

The man is wearing a badge that identifies him as “Virgil Peck, Kansas House of Reps,” while holding a newspaper with the headline “Bill to ban university employees from expressing their opinions regarding government in newspapers —Virgil Peck.”

Peck demanded an apology from McBride and the paper. He lamely claimed everything was all right because the employees could write what they want, just not identify who they work for.

In an interview Thursday, McBride said he had refused to offer an apology.

McBride told me he had received a lot of support from area residents, many of whom — he claimed — don’t even see how Peck got elected to represent that district.

Most of the response “has been really positive,” McBride said, although he also added, “I like the hate mail, too.”

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.