What to make of 19-year-old Aaron Coleman, the Kansas City, Kan., candidate for the state Legislature who defeated incumbent Democrat Stan Frownfelter by 14 votes in the primary?
What to make of a young man who admitted to spreading revenge porn and other bad behavior in his younger years, who seemed amused by the possible death of Republicans from COVID-19? What to make of his successful run and the outrage that followed? What to make of his decisions after the primary, first to leave the race and then to stay in?
Coleman’s case became a national story. Most understood that his past behavior and statements weren’t unacceptable. Others suggested that Kansas Democrats, who called for Frownfelter to run a write-in campaign, were victims of a moral panic. Meanwhile, the women who suffered from Coleman’s actions voiced their own pain and disappointment.
What to make of all of this?
Coleman shouldn’t serve in the Kansas House of Representatives. He should have stuck with his decision to leave the race. His past can’t be defended, and the women he harmed must be heard. Fellow candidates should be forceful in their denunciations of his behavior.
At the same time, voters and the news media have tough decisions to make. We traditionally give candidates a pass on irresponsible actions in their younger years. Is there some sort of set time period that would allow Coleman to seek office again? What kind of restitution would be appropriate? Or do bad choices simply make someone unable to serve for life?
Frownfelter could use a rap across the knuckles, too. As a long-serving representative, he should have understood the threat of an insurgent campaign and made a better case for himself. While he could well win the seat as a write-in candidate, we trust Frownfelter will take primaries more seriously in the future.
As for the Kansas Democratic Party, it might behoove leaders to track races across the state more carefully. Coleman’s win suggests that outspoken, youthful activism resonates with party voters. In the era of Donald Trump, outspoken voices aren’t necessarily a turnoff. Perhaps a more vibrant candidate slate would engage more voters.
Meanwhile, what about the majority of voters that cast ballots for Coleman? They chose not to cast their ballots for Frownfelter, but it’s clear his challenger shouldn’t serve.
Perhaps another write-in candidate, one with a less disturbing past, might want to run. Perhaps he or she might even be a Republican.