Monday, December 10, 2007

Why Paul Morrison & a sex scandal matter whether or not you live in Kansas

By Diane Silver

Oh, what a mess. No matter what happens now, Kansas Attorney General Paul Morrison will forever be linked to the image of tacky sex in somebody's empty office while his staff toils a few feet beyond a closed door.

This is not the image that 58 percent of Kansas voters had in mind when we tossed out former AG Phill Kline last year. The idea was to restore professionalism to the Office of Attorney General.

I suppose this will reveal me as being terminally naive, but the thought of Morrison's out-of-bounds sex life absolutely shocks this little lesbian.

This scandal, of course, has everything: sex (confirmed), infidelity (confirmed) and allegations of sexual harassment, attempting to gain information about the private workings of a DA's office and attempting to interfere with a federal lawsuit (all of that is unconfirmed). The scandal also has a bit of junior high in it, drawing a portrait of an Attorney General who is obsessed with a political rival he has already vanquished. (It's past time for Morrison to head to the chalk board to write a thousand times: "I need to grow up.")

This scandal matters, oh my, how this matters. It matters to Kansans, of course, because these allegations call into question the integrity of the state's highest ranking law enforcement officer. It matters to the state's Democrats because the D's don't have all that many high profile candidates to run for statewide office. Losing one in this manner could really hurt, particularly when the D's are finally challenging the GOP's hold on the state.

But what happens next could well shake more than just the Sunflower State.

* Depending on how she handles this, fellow Democrat Kathleen Sebelius could see her national political ambitions soar or crash to Earth. Before this happened, the governor was poised to run for the U.S. Senate. She has even been mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate.

* A Republican turned Democrat, Morrison was helping to lead the charge to break the religious right's stranglehold on Kansas. If he isn't vindicated, Morrison's fall could taint other efforts to toss out social conservatives. It could provide new energy to the ultra-conservative wing of the GOP and give them a nifty new campaign issue. As writer Thomas Frank has noted, what happens in Kansas helps move the nation. If Kansas could toss the darlings of the religious right out of office, then other red states could follow our lead.

It is worth noting that outside of a truly stupid sexual affair nothing else has been confirmed. The rational thing to do is to wait, take a deep breath and let the investigations run their course. It's also worth noting that stupidity in sex is not an impeachable offense, and so far, that is the only thing Morrison has admitted. Nothing else has been proven.

From a cold, hard, crass political point of view, though, the best bet for Democrats may be to lean on Morrison to resign now. Sebelius could then appoint Morrison's successor and the party and state could have three years to recover before the next election.

What course of action do I favor? At this point, I truly don't know.


Druu said...

The more details that come out, the more I'm leaning towards "resign soon." I hate to admit it, but the republican blogs have a point when they skewer Morrison for using his image as a family man to help get elected. The fact that he was doing that while he was actively having an affair is pretty reprehensible.

Diane Silver said...

I'm not all that convinced that it was Morrison's so-called reputation as a family man that got him elected. What I think really got him elected was the idea that he would bring professionalism back to the Office of Attorney General. Voters also seemed to be reacting against Phill Kline as much as they were endorsing Morrison.

As for resignation... I'm not certain I would push Morrison out yet. From a political point of view, it may well be the best thing to do. From a moral point of view, Morrison does deserve to have his side of the story told.

Anonymous said...

I agree that professionalism had a lot more to do with Morrison's election. But the hypocrisy is there even if those ads didn't put him over the top. I think I'm just particularly frustrated because I really admired Morrison. I went to some of his campaign events and I was very impressed with his legal knowledge and coherent philosophy about the role of an attorney general. I think we all lose in this scandal, because by all accounts, Morrison had been doing a bang-up job in his professional capacity.