Kansas Rep. Steve Alford was removed from a House committee chairmanship and a lead role on the state’s foster care task force Tuesday in the aftermath of his racially charged comments about the use of marijuana by black people.
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, said he and Alford agreed Alford would give up his chairmanships on the House Committee on Children and Seniors and the Legislature’s Child Welfare System Task Force, which is evaluating the state’s troubled foster care system.
“His remarks were unfortunate. We disagreed with them,” Ryckman said. “We understood the importance of the committee he was chairing. We didn’t want it to be subject to scrutiny based on remarks of the chair or have any of the product from that committee looked at in a different lens.”
Alford, a Ulysses Republican, declined to comment further on Tuesday. He has not resigned his House seat.
Ryckman said Alford would be ultimately accountable to voters.
Over the weekend, Alford claimed black people’s character and genetics made them more susceptible to marijuana use and caused the United States to ban the drug in the 1930s in response to a question from a pro-legalization constituent, Finney County Democrats president Zach Worf, at a Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Coffee session.
“What was the reason why they did that?” Alford said. “One of the reasons why, I hate to say it, was that the African Americans, they were basically users and they basically responded the worst off to those drugs just because of their character makeup, their genetics and that. And so basically what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to do a complete reverse with people not remembering what has happened in the past.”
Those remarks were reported Monday by the Garden City Telegram before the Kansas House began its first meeting of the 2018 legislative session. Alford’s legislative peers quickly criticized those remarks, some calling them racist.
Sen. John Doll, R-Garden City, presented alongside Alford at the town hall meeting on Saturday. Doll said Tuesday that Alford is a “good man” who will have to face consequences.
“I wish those statements weren’t made,” Doll said. “I wish it wasn’t what it is. But the reality is that it is what it is. There are consequences for what he said. He’s a good man.”
Rep. John Wheeler, R-Garden City, was also at the town hall event. When reached for comment Tuesday, Wheeler had not yet been made aware that Alford had given up his leadership positions. Wheeler said he was surprised by the firestorm in Topeka, given Alford’s reputation as an upstanding man.
“I know that a lot of people are quite surprised by the comment, but also know his character and reputation, and that’s the reason I’m so surprised,” Wheeler said. “It’s sad that he just wandered out of context, and I feel bad for him, but I understand that those are hurtful remarks and he understands that, as well.”
Rep. Russ Jennings, R-Lakin, said he disagrees with Alford’s comments.
“It certainly appears that he recognizes that he made a serious misstep and he is going about trying to, I think, apologize for his comments,” Jennings said. “He’s certainly suffering some consequences within the Legislature and publicly, and he’ll have to be the one to decide what his future looks like.”
Alford has since apologized, and Ryckman said he issued an apology to his constituents.
“I was wrong, I regret my comments, and I sincerely apologize to anyone whom I have hurt,” Alford said in a statement Monday. “Substance abuse is a blight on our society, and legalizing marijuana only opens the door to harder drugs.”
Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican, was appointed by Ryckman to replace Alford on the committee and task force.
Davis attracted controversy in 2017 by accepting a government affairs position with Cerner, a health information technology company based in Kansas City. Her new job and decision to stay in the House placed her in Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s line of fire. Kobach said her simultaneous service in the Legislature and work as a Cerner government strategist was evidence of a “culture of corruption” in Topeka. Davis has since left that position. She said she is on an unpaid leave of absence from Cerner and will return as a project manager outside the government relations department.
“She shouldn’t be here as a lobbyist,” said Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka. “Others had to choose.”
Kuether’s reference was to former Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican who claimed in 2015 that he could remain in the Legislature and work as executive director of the Kansas Family Policy Council. The council lobbied at the Capitol against abortion and same-sex marriage, which were issues that came before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee that was chaired by Brunk.
Eventually, Brunk resigned from the House and registered as a lobbyist in Kansas.
“I don’t think a Kansas registered lobbyist ought to be in the Kansas Legislature,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican.
Telegram staff writer Mark Minton contributed to this story.