A state legislative town hall got intense Saturday when one lawmaker accused another of lying about support from the National Rifle Association.
The heated exchange between Reps. John Whitmer and John Carmichael came at the end of a 90-minute forum where about 10 members of the public had urged repeal of a law that will allow college students and employees to carry concealed weapons on state university campuses without having to have a permit.
That law takes effect July 1 and also affects the system of state mental hospitals.
Carmichael, D-Wichita, criticized campus carry and Gov. Sam Brownback’s budget request for $25 million to hire more guards so the administration can legally continue to enforce a ban on guns in mental hospitals.
“Why in the world, when we’re broke, would we want to spend $25 million on security guards at three state hospitals so the NRA can have its way about guns?” Carmichael said. “Somebody asked how many of you (legislators) are supported by the NRA. You know, the NRA supported me two years ago, sent me $250 …”
But before Carmichael finished the sentence, Whitmer, R-Wichita, interrupted him, saying, “That’s a lie.”
Replied Carmichael: “Pardon me, the Kansas State Rifle Association. … They work hand in hand together, and you don’t need to say it’s a lie, Representative.”
When Whitmer tried to answer, Carmichael talked over him: “You don’t need to say it’s a lie, Representative. I misspoke.”
Rep. Brandon Whipple, the South Central Kansas Delegation chairman, almost immediately ended the meeting, but Whitmer and Carmichael continued to argue behind his back, with Carmichael telling Whitmer he was “out of line.”
Later, Whitmer said he simply wanted to make the point that the national NRA organization doesn’t write checks to the campaigns of individual Kansas lawmakers.
He said he apologized to Carmichael. “I shouldn’t have used the word ‘lie,’ ” he said.
While the NRA and KSRA are separate corporate entities, they are closely tied politically and KSRA has a standing spot in its officer slate for an NRA representative, currently former Kansas Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady.
Concealed carry on campus was clearly the primary issue at the forum, and no one spoke in favor of it.
Marco Giorgi, the father of a Wichita State University student, said 30 years in the military taught him it’s a bad idea to give young people easy access to weapons. He said if it is to be allowed, there should at least be some training requirement before students can carry on campus.
“The United States Marines are some of the most highly trained young people that are the same age cohort as college students, and they cannot carry guns on base,” Giorgi said.
Pastor Marilyn Shaw of Greater Works Ministries said campus carry is a safety concern, especially the possibility that someone could get shot if an innocent action like reaching into a backpack is misinterpreted as going for a weapon. Part of the ministry is to try to discourage youth violence, she said.
“I worked in the cemetery before and I buried lots of young people under the age of 20,” Shaw said.
Expansion of Medicaid was the second-most-brought-up issue at the forum, with multiple speakers asking legislators to take another crack at it in the wrap-up session that starts Monday.
Medicaid expansion would make health coverage available to an estimated 150,000 Kansans – primarily the working poor – who fall into a glitch in federal health care law.
They make too much money to qualify for Medicaid but too little to qualify for subsidized coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The House and Senate passed Medicaid expansion bills about a month ago, but Brownback vetoed the legislation.
Local activist Janice Bradley said she went for five years without health insurance before the ACA allowed her to get insured. She said now the government pays about $700 on her monthly health bill.
She said it makes her angry to hear Brownback and his allies talk about how the state shouldn’t take part in covering able-bodied adults. “I’m able bodied, but I’m retired, I’m not working,” she said.
Bradley took a bottle of ketchup to the podium with her to illustrate just how angry she is on the Medicaid issue.
“I want to write ‘able-bodied killers’ (with the ketchup) in the driveway of Dan Hawkins and Les Osterman, and I still might do it,” she said, referring to two Wichita state representatives who oppose Medicaid expansion.
Neither Hawkins nor Osterman attended the forum.