Free speech debate on bumper sticker grows

? A legislative staffer who put an anti-war bumper sticker with a profanity on her car and parked it in the Statehouse garage upset one lawmaker and had the governor and others debating the limits of free speech.

Ashley Holm’s sticker created speculation that her full-time, yearlong paid internship with the Legislative Research Department was in jeopardy, although the lawmaker who complained said he didn’t seek to have her fired.

It wasn’t clear Monday whether any action had been taken, and the sticker was still visible in the garage. Holm’s assigned space is in a high-traffic area.

The red bumper sticker contains only two words in white – the f-word followed by “war.”

“It shows questionable judgment,” said Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence.

Schmidt and other legislative leaders said they’re content to leave the issue to Alan Conroy, the Research Department’s director. Conroy wouldn’t comment Monday, saying the matter was a personnel issue. Neither would Holm.

But at the prompting of reporters, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius did weigh in. She said Holm shouldn’t lose her job.

“I’m a big believer that free speech is alive and well and should be alive and well in and out of the Capitol,” Sebelius said.

The complaint about the sticker came from House Majority Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, a former Marine. He said the language offended him.

“We have a lot of kids coming out of this building every day, and I don’t think it’s appropriate,” Merrick said.

Also, the Research Department’s staff is supposed to remain nonpolitical because it serves all legislators, regardless of party or philosophy.

Merrick said he complained about the sticker to Jeff Russell, in charge of administrative services for legislators. Russell then relayed the complaint to Conroy. Both Merrick and Russell said the majority leader never discussed a potential firing; Conroy said he has not talked to Merrick directly.

Some legislators questioned whether Holm’s bumper sticker is even political.

“I think it’s a stretch,” said Rep. Candy Ruff, D-Leavenworth. “You might be making that statement because you don’t want your son or daughter to be killed in combat, you don’t want to see your nation put in danger.”

As for the language, Ruff said: “This is America. Say what you want.”