Topeka Two Republicans in the Kansas House see a Democratic district attorney's ongoing investigation as political after being subpoenaed and answering questions about private dinner meetings lawmakers had with GOP Gov. Sam Brownback.
Reps. Steve Brunk of Bel Aire and Virgil Peck of Tyro were among seven GOP legislators who received subpoenas late last month from Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor. He is investigating potential violations of the Kansas Open Meetings Act from seven dinners Brownback had in January at Cedar Crest, his official residence.
Two of the subpoenaed legislators, Sen. Bob Marshall of Fort Scott and Rep. Anthony Brown of Eudora are compelled to appear at the county courthouse Thursday morning to answer questions. Brunk and Peck received similar summonses but came in for interviews last week.
Brownback invited members of 13 House and Senate committees to the seven dinners in January, almost all of them fellow Republicans. Most attending the meetings have described them as social gatherings, and Brownback has said they're confident no laws were broken.
On Wednesday, Peck called the investigation "just a witch hunt." Brunk said the dinner he attended was a "nonevent," and two members of Taylor's staff pressed him for details on what exactly was said and how legislators interacted with the governor.
"It just feels really, really political," Brunk said Wednesday. "I felt like they were kind of looking for a 'gotcha' moment."
Taylor spokesman Lee McGowan declined to respond to Brunk's and Peck's comments.
Also subpoenaed were Sen. Susan Wagle of Wichita and Reps. Rob Bruchman of Overland Park and Scott Schwab of Olathe. Bruchman and Schwab eventually were released from their subpoenas, and Wagle is arranging to answer questions by phone to avoid traveling while she undergoes cancer treatments.
Taylor's staff had attempted to interview legislators before they ended their annual session. Lawmakers had to agree to answer questions, because the state constitution shielded them from being subpoenaed while they were still working.
Brownback invited more than 90 of the Legislature's 165 members to the dinners, and the only Democrat on the list has said she assumed it was a mistake and didn't attend. Brunk and Peck said they would have answered questions earlier but had limited contact with Taylor's office, so the interviews weren't scheduled.
Both said they considered fighting their subpoenas but already had business in Topeka last week, including the Legislature's brief, formal adjournment ceremony.
"I wasn't going to make a special trip down there for essentially nothing," Brunk said.
The Open Meetings Act prohibits a voting majority of a legislative body from discussing government business without giving the public notice or access to the meetings.
Taylor said from the beginning of his investigation that the act does not apply to Brownback as an individual and that the alleged violations are civil, not criminal, matters. Officials who knowingly break the law can be fined up to $500 per incident, but a case typically leads to an order spelling out how officials will avoid future violations.
The governor acknowledged in March that he set up the meetings to discuss his agenda and took questions and comments after speaking. But he's dismissed criticism that the dinners were business meetings.
Peck said the two dinners he attended included small talk about lawmakers' families and the weather.
"Whenever you get more than one legislator together, you're going to talk politics," Peck said. "There were no decisions made."