State Rep. Aaron Coleman, 37th District, said Monday night he has left the Democratic Party.
Elected as a Democrat, Rep. Coleman was sworn into office Monday in Topeka, despite the party’s call for his resignation. At age 20, Coleman is the youngest person ever elected to the Kansas Legislature.
Rep. Coleman said Monday night he is switching to independent, without a party affiliation.
Coleman is facing a sort of hazing in the Kansas Legislature over abuse allegations. He believes he’s the only person elected to legislative office who has been denied office space. He is also now the only independent in the Kansas House or Senate.
The reason for his leaving the Democratic caucus and party is that “they are attempting to disenfranchise my constituents and voters,” he said.
Unlike all the other freshmen representatives, Rep. Coleman was not assigned an office. It is up to the party leaders to assign office space. Coleman also was not assigned to any committees by House Democrats, as were the other freshmen legislators. He also said he was not notified of Democratic caucus meetings.
He does have a desk on the floor of the House, he said, and he hopes the speaker will assign him office space in the coming days.
Coleman said that state statutes require that every representative be provided with an office, office supplies and materials.
Coleman has heard there might be an expulsion or ouster move against him, possibly on Tuesday, he said. If there is a complaint filed, a committee of three Democrats and three Republicans could be appointed to consider it. They could dismiss it, table it, make a recommendation to censure, or vote to expel. Coleman said it is possible that the leadership does not want to spend the time on a complaint about him, as it has so many other things to consider.
Rep. Coleman won a close primary contest over long-time Democratic legislator Stan Frownfelter after a lot of door-to-door campaigning in the Turner area of Kansas City, Kansas. Later, Coleman won the general election by a wide majority after a write-in campaign by two candidates did not succeed.
During the campaign, reports surfaced about alleged abuse of a girlfriend within the past year, and an alleged revenge porn incident as a middle schooler. Despite these allegations surfacing and stories being written about them, voters chose Coleman. He gained the confidence of voters by going door-to-door and listening to them.
He also used very questionable words to disagree with the governor on social media on the day after the election, “People will realize one day when I call a hit out on you it’s real.” The topic he was addressing was Medicare for all. Later Coleman said he didn’t mean it literally, and the language was a figurative way of saying he would be in opposition to the governor.
A group of seven Democratic freshmen women legislators on Dec. 21 called on Coleman to resign before the legislative session began, and the state Democratic Party also called on him to resign. But he didn’t.
None of the incidents occurred while he was in office, he said.
Despite the opposition from Democratic leaders and some legislators, a handful of other individual Republicans and Democrats talked to him Monday, he said, and some helped him find his way around. While they may not agree with him on everything, some are willing to work with him, he said.
Coleman is an admirer of Sen. Bernie Sanders and his policies, but said he is not in communication with him.
“Just like independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, I will not be a registered Democrat any more,” Rep. Coleman said Monday night.
Rep. Coleman said his next step will be to focus on legislation. He has sponsored two bills and is working on more, he said. One bill would raise the minimum wage to $17.25 over 10 years, and the other, Erin’s Law, would establish public school training and instruction standards to identify child sexual abuse.
Coleman has found some support from an area legislator who believes that the election results, the will of the people, should not be overturned, and that expulsion would be a bad precedent. Instead, the legislator said opponents should just wait until the next election and run a campaign. (See Reports surface that legislators will try to expel Coleman.)
Coleman thinks some of the opposition he faces might be because of his age.
He plans to continue part-time with college and work, he said. He will go to college during the fall semester, and to the Legislature in the spring semester, he added. He also will be looking at joining the National Guard, and he toured a base this past weekend. It’s a way for him to do public service in more ways than one, he said.
Rep. Coleman released this statement:
Statement from House District 37 Rep. Aaron Coleman on Unaffiliating with Democratic Leadership and Registering as an Independent
“In August – despite a budget of $3,700 compared to my opponent’s political war chest of $50,000 – I defeated the Democratic incumbent in the primary election and ran as a proud Kansas Democrat in the general election. On November 3, 2020, the good people of Kansas House District 37 with a 66% majority elected me to represent them in the Kansas Legislature.
“Since that time, the leadership of the Kansas House Democrats has done everything possible to deny the people of House District 37 their right to representation in the Kansas Legislature. The Democratic leadership has refused to assign me to any committees, refused to notify me of caucus meetings, refused to include me on the Kansas House Democrats’ email lists, refused to list me as an elected Democrat on the Kansas House Democrats website, and has refused to assign me a phone number and administrative staff at the State House. The Democratic leadership has even refused to assign me an office in the State Capitol, despite a statutory requirement that the State House maintain and provide permanent office space and facilities for elected representatives. It has been made clear to me that the Kansas Democratic leadership, despite presiding over a party with so few members that it cannot prevent the majority party from overriding any vetoed legislation, is not willing to respect the fact I was elected as a Kansas Democrat to represent my constituents.
“I am ready to get to work for the people of Kansas. I have already introduced legislation raising the minimum wage, and legislation establishing Erin’s law in the State of Kansas and plan to introduce much more legislation in the days to come. The path I pursue has broad support among lawmakers from both parties. In fact, rank and file Democrats and Republicans – including some elected members of the Kansas legislature – have made it clear to me that they do not support the Democratic leadership’s attempt to shut me out of the State House and deny the people of House District 37 proper representation.
“As a result of the Kansas House Democratic leadership’s shocking actions, I have notified the Kansas House Democrats that I am registering as Unaffiliated, and ask that the office of Legislative Administrative Services reflect my party affiliation as “Independent” effectively immediately. I am hopeful that the Speaker of the House is willing to provide me and my constituents the minimum courtesy that every other elected representative has, which at the very least should include an office at the State House, a telephone number, and access to administrative staff.“
- Rep. Aaron Coleman