Topeka She started out as the darling of conservative Republicans.
A born-again Christian, living in far western Kansas, who taught elementary school and overcame personal obstacles to straighten out her life and win a stunning victory to the State Board of Education over a Republican incumbent.
Now, Connie Morris is under fire.
There is a recall effort under way in her sprawling district, which covers 40 percent of the state.
There are mounting questions about her infamous trip to Miami.
And her conduct on the board prompted an internal review about how board members should treat each other.
"She is doing things that don't represent the feelings of this district," state Rep. Jim Morrison, R-Colby, said.
Her divisive comments and willingness to blame others are wearing thin, he and other critics say.
"Connie is an example of what is dividing and splitting our communities," said Terry Woodbury, a consultant and ranch manager who lives in both Leoti and Kansas City, Kan.
Morris - whose district covers most of the western third of the state - has defended her actions and stances on the board, blaming the media and liberal critics for much of the criticism.
In response to e-mailed questions for this story, Morris declined to answer queries about her out-of-state travel expenses, saying, "I am finished haggling over my travel."
She said she planned to run for re-election next year, and that her brand of politics was gaining support.
"I believe Constitutional Conservatives are becoming more plentiful every day, as well as growing acutely aware of the duty to vote," she said.
Morris, a Republican from St. Francis in far northwestern Kansas, never sought elected office until 2002 when she ran against and easily defeated incumbent moderate Republican I.B. "Sonny" Rundell.
She has said she was required by God to run after she had written an autobiography about overcoming sexual abuse and depression.
Partially financed by the conservative Kansas Republican Assembly, Morris campaigned as a fiscal conservative and spoke out against illegal immigration, adding that taxpayers shouldn't pay for the education of the children of undocumented workers.
Her comments soon got her into trouble. Morris e-mailed an anti-immigration group that Garden City Mayor Tim Cruz was an "admitted past illegal immigrant."
But that wasn't true, and later Morris apologized.
Then, she told a reporter that she had reported to the FBI a Lawrence filmmaker for possibly stalking and "terroristic" behavior.
The filmmaker, Ranjit Arab, denied he stalked Morris but said that he patiently tried for months to get an interview with Morris for a film he was doing that was critical of her stand on immigration. Arab said he later sought a copy of the FBI complaint and the FBI told him nothing was filed.
Either she lied to the reporter, Arab said, or the FBI thought her claims were baseless.
"I think Morris' actions against me are consistent with her behavior towards others who stand up to her. She's a bully and she takes cheap shots," Arab said.
On her Web site, conniemorris.com, Morris says she opposes illegal immigration because it is devastating to children.
"Let's all continue to use discernment, wisdom and grace as political rumors hurl about, particularly concerning illegal immigration," she says.
Jim Cates, a conservative radio talk show host in Topeka, is a fan of Morris' because of her stand opposing the education of children of illegal aliens.
"In her district, that is the No. 1 issue," Cates said. "She is absolutely, positively on the right side of that issue."
But Morrison, the state legislator from Colby, said political opinion about immigration in western Kansas is mixed.
Many in western Kansas appreciate the migrant workers who come to the area to help bring in crops, he said. "Many are hard-working, generally good, honest people who for the most part are trying to get citizenship," he said.
But Morris has caught more heat in recent months because of her criticism of teaching evolution, a newsletter she put out at taxpayer expense that blasted fellow board members by name, and a $3,900 trip, for which she billed taxpayers, that she made to a conference in Miami during which she stayed at a $339-per-night resort hotel.
After a public outcry over the trip, Morris last week reimbursed the state $2,890 for her expenses, but billed the state $1,000 for conference registration and salary during the five-day event.
She refused to apologize and blamed "media bullying."
Kansas Republican Party Chairman Tim Shallenburger said that since Morris has repaid the expenses, that should be the end of the matter.
"These things happen. I don't think I should be judgmental. She has reimbursed the state, I don't know what more you could ask for," Shallenburger said.
But that may not be the end of it. A Harper County citizen activist, Frank Smith, has raised questions about the validity of some of Morris' trip receipts.
Board Chairman Steve Abrams, a Republican from Arkansas City, said he has decided to review some of her expense receipts in response to Smith's questions.
Morrison said her decision to stay at the expensive hotel undermined her conservative credentials in her district. "That is considered way out of line," he said.
In addition to the Miami trip, Morris had the most out-of-state trips of the 10-member board during fiscal year 2004, which ran from July 1, 2003 until June 30, 2004.
She attended five conferences, including the National Association of State Boards of Education in Washington D.C., the Education Leaders Council in Nashville, Tenn., the National Rural Education Association Conference in Kearney, Neb., the Constitution Coalition Education Policy Conference in St. Louis, Mo., and the National Youth Summit in Arlington, Va.
Meanwhile an effort is under way to recall Morris from office before she faces re-election in 2006.
Brian Shultz of Hutchinson, who describes himself as an independent, is one of several people involved in the effort.
"In an era of sound bites, she's probably done more to undermine Kansas as a welcome home for business and tourism than anyone since Truman Capote," Shultz said.
"Voters believed that she would be a voice for fiscal responsibility. Instead, they learn that she has misused education funds for a junket," he said.
In a recent statement, Morris said she wasn't concerned about the recall. "I serve at the will of the people and will be honored to continue to serve as long as they'd like me to do so."
Applying for a recall petition would require 6,870 signatures of voters who live in the district. If the petition were approved by the state, then a committee would have 90 days to gather 27,384 signatures, or 40 percent of the voters. Some have suggested abandoning the recall and focusing instead on backing an opponent for next year.
Mary Porterfield, a Spanish teacher in the Goodland school district, said she hoped Morris was a one-term member.
"I disagree with the issues she brings up and the way she handles herself. I hope to have someone else represent me in the near future," she said.