'Red' rant: Mean-spirited acts spotlight ugly culture in Statehouse

6/30/2014

It's a sad day when a supposed legislative leader can't wait to show his spiteful side — and with mean-spiritedness directed at public school teachers, no less.

It's a sad day when a supposed legislative leader can't wait to show his spiteful side — and with mean-spiritedness directed at public school teachers, no less.

Such were the unfortunate antics of Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, the Stilwell Republican who offended educators and others with his comments and behavior.

As part of recent discussion over concealed carry in the Kansas Statehouse, Merrick said he welcomed law-abiding people trained to carry concealed weapons, because their presence would somehow serve as added protection against violence.

Then, Merrick went after public school teachers.

"I'm uncomfortable with people being here for other reasons," Merrick said. "There are a lot of red shirts around here."

It was an obvious and ugly reference to teachers who wore red T-shirts when they packed the Statehouse in April to protest pending school finance legislation pushed by Merrick and fellow ultraconservatives — as if the Kansans who had every right to gather at their Statehouse to sound off were some sort of threat.

The legislation eventually signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback included removal of due process for teachers, among other negative initiatives.

Merrick, sensing backlash after the recent "red shirts" comment related to guns in the Statehouse, backpedaled and said he actually meant to say "Redcoats" — as in British Revolutionary War troops.

Right. And we're also supposed to believe it was just coincidence when Merrick marched through the crowd of teachers gathered at the Statehouse with his cell phone held high and playing the Marine Corps hymn, as if he'd just emerged victorious from a battle.

A former Marine, Merrick has the Marine Corps hymn as a ringtone. His camp claimed he just happened to received a call at that precise time.

Sure.

Merrick and company should just admit their disdain for K-12 teachers. They certainly demonstrated as much with school finance legislation laced with anti-public school changes.

Hit with negative fallout over the "red shirts" remark, Merrick did express regret.

But the House speaker's pettiness spoke volumes, and gave us yet another glimpse of the unseemly, undignified, in-your-face culture spawned by ultraconservative Republicans in control in Topeka.

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