Kansas House speaker, state party urge GOP lawmaker to step down because of abuse allegations
photo by: Nick Krug
Story updated at 4:42 p.m. Friday, Aug. 31:
TOPEKA – Republican House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. is asking a member of his own caucus to resign and suspend his campaign following a broadcast report about accusations that he had emotionally abused children, and the Kansas Republican Party said Friday that it is severing all ties with him.
But Rep. Michael Capps, R-Wichita, so far has indicated he intends to stay in the race, and he denies the allegations against him, saying they were made in retaliation for criticisms he had levied against the state’s child welfare agency.
According to a story aired by KAKE-TV in Wichita, Capps was formally accused last year of having inappropriate physical contact with a 5-year-old while he was working as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate.
“Holding public office requires public trust,” Ryckman said in an email statement. “The allegations in this matter are serious ones. I pray for everyone involved and hope this situation is resolved swiftly. In the meantime, for Mr. Capps to serve in the Kansas House would be entirely inappropriate. Public trust matters far more than political gain.”
According to the story on KAKE-TV, in 2017 Capps was assigned as a CASA volunteer to work with a number of foster children. CASA volunteers advocate in court for the interests of children who are taken into state custody.
Citing what it said were official records, the station reported that a few weeks after a 5-year-old was placed in a foster home, the foster mother accused Capps of hugging and kissing the boy and other foster children on numerous occasions.
She also accused him of allowing children to sit on his lap and rub his chest.
The Journal-World has not been able to independently verify the accusations.
The Department for Children and Families reportedly investigated the accusations and found that Capps had caused emotional abuse to two boys, the station reported. But Capps appealed, and the complaints were eventually dismissed after a finding that DCF had failed to follow proper procedures when the complaint was filed.
No criminal charges were ever filed in the case.
“The allegations leveled against me were and are categorically false and untrue,” Capps said in an email to the Journal-World. “They were made in retaliation after I made DCF aware that a foster parent was allowing a registered sex offender into her house putting foster children at high risk.”
The Kansas Republican Party, however, said it believes there is enough credible evidence to support the allegations.
“As we have looked into (these) accusations and reviewed information from Mr. Capps and other sources, we must take preemptive action to sever all Republican Party support and ties to Mr. Capps’ campaign,” the party said in a statement Friday.
“Because of the nature of this accusation, Mr. Capps has been made aware that his decision to stay in the race is not supported by the Kansas Republican Party,” the statement continued.
Capps, however, said he does not intend to back down.
“The real problem is that we have two political parties and a DCF system that values covering their own backsides politically over the safety and well being of children in their care,” he said in the email. “They value protecting convicted sexual predators over those in the system that are falsely accused every day, such as me. I will not allow them to slander me, I will not run and hide, I will continue my fight for Kansas Children.”
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said in a statement that he also thinks Capps should step down.
“I agree with the Speaker that Michael Capps’ behavior is entirely inappropriate and beneath the expectations of a State Representative,” Ward said in a statement. “It is disappointing DCF committed a technical error that prevented them from holding him accountable for his actions through the legal process. We must do better in Kansas to protect our children.”
The withdrawal of support from Ryckman and the state party may virtually assure that the conservative-leaning 85th District will go to the Democratic candidate in that race, Monica Marks.
Because of a law enacted in 2015, it is now virtually impossible to remove Capps’ name from the ballot. The law states that withdrawal from a race between June 1 (the filing deadline) and Sept. 1, which is Saturday, is permissible only if the candidate or a family member has a serious medical condition attested to by a doctor, if the candidate moves out of state or if the candidate dies.
After Sept. 1, however, candidates’ names remain on the ballot, even if they die before Election Day.
That law passed in response to controversy in the 2014 race for U.S. Senate in Kansas, when the winner of the Democratic primary, Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, withdrew from the race in September under pressure from national Democratic officials to allow independent candidate Greg Orman to challenge incumbent Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.
But Bryan Caskey, director of elections and legislative matters in the secretary of state’s office, said Friday that even if Capps were to win the election, the House could still refuse to seat him in January because, he said, the House has ultimate authority to decide the qualifications for its own membership.
Capps has never actually served in the Legislature during a legislative session. Republican officials in the 85th District appointed him to the seat in July after former Rep. Chuck Weber resigned to take a job as executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference.
Capps had previously filed to run in the nearby 97th District, where Rep. Leslie Osterman, R-Wichita, was stepping down. But shortly before the June 1 filing deadline, after hearing the news that Weber was resigning, Capps changed his voter registration to an address in the 85th District and filed to run there.
Democrats filed an objection to his candidacy in June, claiming he did not actually live in the home that he declared as his residence, but the State Objections Board dismissed that challenge.