Teen leading in Kansas race admits blackmail, revenge porn
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Democrats are scrambling to deal with the strong possibility that a 19-year-old candidate for a Kansas House seat in Kansas City will unseat a veteran lawmaker despite making incendiary comments on social media and acknowledging abusive behavior online toward girls in middle school.
Aaron Coleman, a dishwasher and community college student, holds a five-vote lead over seven-term state Rep. Stan Frownfelter, a 69-year-old small business owner. Officials in their home of Wyandotte County are scheduled to meet Monday to review provisional ballots and decide whether to count them, potentially altering Coleman’s 807-802 lead in voting.
Coleman is running a liberal platform that includes universal health coverage, eliminating college tuition, defunding the police and legalizing marijuana. But he received more attention for a social media post suggesting he would “laugh and giggle” if a former GOP state lawmaker died of COVID-19, another post endorsing abortion up to the moment of birth and a third acknowledging that allegations that he engaged in online bullying, blackmail and revenge porn were true. He apologized for the comments and said his past behavior targeting several middle-school girls was that of “a sick and troubled” 14-year-old.
Some Democrats are struggling with the possibility that with no Republican on the ballot in the 37th District this fall, Coleman could sit in the House come January. Frownfelter argues that Coleman’s nomination could hurt Democrats’ efforts to pick up seats in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
“He is not fit to serve in the Legislature,” said Lauren Fitzgerald, a spokeswoman for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
Coleman also ran as an independent write-in candidate for governor in 2018. He attributed the results of the House primary to his door-to-door campaigning and said in an email to The Associated Press that he was “absolutely shocked” by the results.
“I ran to talk about how to make Kansas better for working people,” Coleman said. “I never expected I would win.”
Frownfelter won the Kansas City, Kansas, seat in 2006 and hadn’t previously faced a contested primary. He also faced no opponent at all in five of his seven previous elections. Frownfelter said in an interview that he believes that had turnout been higher, he would have won and suggested that young voters came out to back Coleman while older constituents did not vote.
“Everybody I talked to said, ”Oh, you don’t have to worry. You’re going to win,’” Frownfelter said. He added that that many voters didn’t know of Coleman’s social media posts or past behavior.
Coleman’s social media posts about coronavirus and abortion have been taken down, and in an Aug. 1 post on Facebook, he apologized that he had “crossed a boundary.”
“I’m new at politics and so sometimes I speak a little too directly,” he said in his email Friday to AP. “But these issues are life and death.”
The Kansas City Star detailed the allegations about Coleman’s behavior in middle school in a recent editorial decrying the possibility that he could serve in the House. He did not dispute the newspaper’s account.
The Star said Coleman obtained a nude photo of a girl, threatened distribute it unless she sent him more nude photos and followed through with the threat when she didn’t provide more photos. Asked about the accuracy of those details, Coleman said in his email to the AP, “They’re accurate.”
Coleman said Friday that he was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder at age 15. In a June 17 Facebook post, he attributed his problems partly to spending “the vast majority” of his elementary school education “in a closet” instead of getting proper help at school. He said he was home-schooled in middle school.
“I’ve grown a great deal since then,” he said in his Friday email.
Doug Powers, assistant superintendent of the Kansas City-area Turner school district where Coleman went to elementary school, said it does not “put kids in closets.”
State Democratic Party officials are not commenting at least until the vote-counting is done. Jacques Barber, Wyandotte County’s Democratic chairman, said the party shouldn’t try to overturn the result if Coleman is declared the nominee but “try to counsel him and give him as much guidance as we can.”
“He has been elected by the people, and the people have been exposed to what he’s said and done, and apparently, that’s their choice,” Barber said.
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