In a Topeka Capital-Journal story that also appeared in the Ottawa Herald on Saturday, Rep. Blaine Finch, a Republican from Ottawa who is also speaker pro tem of the Kansas House of Representatives and Ottawa City Attorney was accused of acting inappropriately in a downtown Topeka restaurant. Also in the group were Rep. Susan Concannon, R-Beloit, lobbyists Dan Murray and Rachelle Colombo and House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe. According to the story, the owner of the White Linen restaurant claimed Finch and his group created a scene that was fueled by alcohol and eventually led to the group being banned from the restaurant.
Quoted in the story were the restaurant owner and the restaurant manager that claimed the group was repeatedly asked to quiet down and to stop harassing other customers. Finch and members of the group were quoted in the story saying the incident did not happen. Finch said he was not aware of anything happening. It’s a big jump from not knowing anything happened to a restaurant owner claiming he banned them from the establishment.
So who do we believe? Both Finch and Ryckman were contacted multiple times by the Herald for a comment on Friday. Both issued written statements that really said nothing about the incident. Finch wrote, “you can’t believe everything you read” and talked about trying to conduct himself in a “professional manner at all times.” Ryckman’s statement was even more vague talking only about valuing Topeka businesses and how lawmakers are taught from orientation to respect their hosts in the city.
Both were given the chance to say the incident absolutely did not happen, but instead gave statements that left the issue open for doubt. Finch and Ryckman hold the top two positions in the house leadership and Finch also serves as city attorney for the City of Ottawa. At the very least, some sort of explanation is in order. Something happened at the restaurant. It may not have been as bad as the restaurant reported, but why would an upscale Topeka restaurant want to attack the House leadership? It just doesn’t add up.
There are big issues being decided in Topeka in the coming weeks like school finance and Medicaid expansion. The optics of an alcohol fueled altercation, which included lobbyists, does not inspire confidence in our elected officials. And at the very least, both Finch and Ryckman should face some sort of discipline by their peers.
The opposite of this story is the impact first-year lawmaker Mark Samsel is making on area young people. Samsel, who also is a high school basketball official, is spending time with high school and college students to learn more about the issues they face. He is taking his role on the House Education Committee seriously.
Earlier this year he had a picture taken with my son and a friend after a varsity basketball game. This weekend, my son was part of a group of local students that were invited to attend a Sporting KC game with Samsel. During the afternoon, he asked questions of these young adults about what issues were important to them. He listened to their stories and got to know them better and encouraged them to keep striving for excellence.
When you read his legislative updates, you will find stories of outstanding youth in our area doing outstanding things. He is making connections with the people he serves and trying to make a difference using the social media tag #OneBrighter.
Let’s hope that as his time in the House continues, he keeps his eye on helping those that elected him and those that he serves. It’s an example I think Finch and Ryckman need to take to heart.
— Jeff Gulley, Herald managing editor