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Two Kansas lawmakers with histories of abusive behavior just lost their primary elections

 Aaron Coleman, left, and Mark Samsel.
John Hanna
/
AP
Aaron Coleman, left, and Mark Samsel.

Kansas City Democrat Aaron Coleman and Wellsville Republican Mark Samsel, both members of the Kansas House Representatives, lost in their primary elections on Tuesday. Both had campaigns overshadowed by allegations of personal misconduct.

Voters on Tuesday ended — for now, at least — the political careers of two Kansas House representatives with histories of personal misconduct.

Rep. Aaron Coleman, a Kansas City Democrat elected in 2020 despite allegations of abuse toward women, finished a distant last in his three-way primary contest for the 37th House District. The heavily Democratic district covers parts of Turner and Argentine neighborhoods.

Democrat Melissa Oropeza advanced to the general election with 1,203 votes — good for 49% of the vote. Oropeza will face Republican Diana Whittington in the general election.

Faith Rivera got 923 votes, or 38%, while Coleman came away with 321 votes, or 13%.

Meanwhile, Rep. Mark Samsel, a Wellsville Republican accused of kicking a student in the groin while working as a substitute teacher, lost his 5th House District primary contest to Carrie Barth.

Barth, who has a background in business development and sales from Baldwin City, Kansas, won easily with 2,769 votes, or 63%, to Samsel’s 1,599 votes, or 37%. The 5th House District covers parts of Linn, Miami, Franklin and Anderson counties in east-central Kansas.

"I've never been through anything like this before,” Barth told KCUR on Wednesday. “It was also a very proud moment for me because I got to take my daughter who is a first time voter, she's 18 years old, to the polls for the very first time. It's pretty cool that she got to vote her mom on her very first election ever."

Aaron Coleman

Coleman made national headlines in 2020 when, as a teenaged candidate, he faced accusations of bullying a classmate in grade school.

Another classmate accused Coleman of “revenge porn” for threatening to circulate a nude photograph of the student that he obtained to others if she did not send more nude photographs to him. And a girlfriend of Coleman’s also accused him of abusive behavior.

But Coleman, who ran as a progressive, defeated longtime Democratic House Rep. Stan Frownfelter in the 2020 primary and won in the general election, despite the accusations against him.

Coleman’s time in office was tumultuous. Democratic leadership shunned Coleman and offered him no assignments to House committees, which curtailed his political influence.

 Carrie Barth, left, defeated Rep. Mark Samsel for his seat in Kansas' 5th House District seat Tuesday. There is no Democrat running for that seat in November. Melissa Oropeza defeated Rep. Aaron Coleman in Tuesday's primary and will compete for the 37th House District seat against Republican Diana Whittington.
Contributed campaign photos
Carrie Barth, left, defeated Rep. Mark Samsel for his seat in Kansas' 5th House District seat Tuesday. There is no Democrat running for that seat in November. Melissa Oropeza defeated Rep. Aaron Coleman in Tuesday's primary and will compete for the 37th House District seat against Republican Diana Whittington.

Coleman introduced various pieces of legislation, including a measure to require lobbyists to wear body cameras to record their interactions in the Kansas statehouse, but they all died in the committees to which they were assigned.

Authorities arrested Coleman twice during his term in office. In November, Overland Park Police arrested Coleman after an altercation with his brother and grandfather, following an argument over the former wanting a baptism, according to court records. Coleman later entered into a diversion agreement with the Johnson County District Attorney.

Later that month, a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper arrested Coleman on suspicion of driving under the influence while on Interstate 70. The Douglas County District Attorney later charged Coleman with speeding and failing to yield to emergency vehicles, but did not issue a DUI charge, according to the Kansas City Star.

Coleman, who did not respond to requests for comment for this story, congratulated Oropeza in a tweet on Tuesday night.

“I hope this decision is the best for everyone,” Coleman wrote. “Thank you to all my supporters and everyone who voted.”

Mark Samsel

Samsel, a lawyer, was arrested on suspicion of battery last year following an incident at a school in Wellsville where he worked as a substitute teacher.

According to The Star, Samsel kicked a student in the midst of a rant about God, the Bible, suicide and masturbation. A student captured the incident on camera.

Barth said Tuesday’s result was an indication that the district’s voters sought a candidate who was “just a good person, that will stand for things.”

“I think people are just really looking for a change and a fresh face and someone who will stand for what the Republicans in our district are looking for,” Barth said.

Samsel, first elected to office in 2019, said he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after his arrest.

"This is the only episode I'd ever had like this in my life," Samsel said on Wednesday.

Samsel said he began seeing a psychiatrist about four years ago.

"We had never realized I was struggling or capable of having manic episode that include hallucinations or psychosis," Samsel said.

Samsel was among the Republicans who voted to sustain Gov. Laura Kelly's veto of legislation banning transgender athletes from participating in girl's or women's sports.

He said he worried that the Kansas Legislature was starting to resemble Congress.

"I guess at the end of the day, where I’m disheartened a little bit is, it’s looking like Kansas is going a bit more extreme in the House of Representatives," Samsel said. "And I think the Senate is already there."

Samsel said he's not sure if he will return to politics. He said he hopes his experience can help others understand they can overcome mental health challenges.

"Having mental health issues doesn’t make you weak or a bad person," Samsel said. "I hope they can get help."

Copyright 2022 KCUR 89.3. To see more, visit KCUR 89.3.

Steve Vockrodt
Bek Shackelford-Nwanganga