Toland nomination awaits Senate vote
TOPEKA — The fate of David Toland’s candidacy to head the state’s economic development rests with 40 Kansas senators, who will bring with them a panel’s vote to reject his nomination.
A divided Senate committee sparred back and forth Thursday before voting, 6-5, to reject the Iolan’s nomination to become secretary of commerce.
When the full Senate brings his nomination to a vote is the next question. By law, the Senate must vote on his confirmation within five working days of the committee’s recommendation. It’s also possible the Legislature could adjourn within those five days, which would push his nomination vote to late spring.
THE TWO-DAY confirmation hearing was capped with open bickering back-and-forth amongst the senators who questioned Toland’s experience in a number of areas, including the agriculture and aviation industries and workforce development; grilled him on comments he made at a Medicaid expansion rally in Topeka last April; continued discussion about a suddenly much-ballyhooed social media post they said was derogatory against a Republican colleague; and referred to letters they’ve received urging them to “look more” into Toland’s past.
Acting Kansas Commerce Secretary David Toland stands in front of a crowded hearing room as a Senate panel discusses his nomination to become the secretary full time.
SEN. GENE Suellentrop, R-Wichita, started Thursday’s proceedings by quizzing Toland on his lack of experience in a number of areas, most notably agriculture and exporting related to the aviation industry. He asked about Toland’s experience in working with STAR bonds and other economic development tools the Department of Commerce has at its disposal.
He also questioned Toland’s desire to bring additional businesses to the state when many state businesses have been hindered by a workforce shortage.
“We need somebody with a strong depth of knowledge of what the state’s about,” Suellentrop said. “There is a substantial shortfall in your application in work experience and administration of what your past job performance has been.”
Toland, in response, pointed to his 18 years of experience in economic development sectors in both urban and rural settings.
“By comparison, my predecessor was a soccer coach and a hand model,” Toland said, referring to Antonio Soave, who was appointed by former Gov. Sam Brownback in 2015 and later confirmed, 38-0, by senators before resigning in 2017 amid a cloud of accusations of financial misdeeds.
“I’ve been the most outspoken critic of the previous two” commerce secretaries, Suellentrop replied. “I don’t think three is a charm.”
SEN. ERIC Rucker, R-Topeka, spent his allotted five minutes in asking Toland about his comments at a Medicaid expansion rally outside the State Capitol in April 2018, centering on one quote in particular: “I am not proud of legislators that bottle up bills supported by 80 percent of the people in our state, never letting them see the light of day,” Toland was quoted as saying. “I’m not proud of people protecting political fortune over protecting people’s lives.”
Toland noted his speech was in support of Medicaid expansion, and that he was not singling out specific legislators. “My words are what they are,” he said.
“We’re talking about tone and maintaining a tone with the Legislature, specifically those you ask now to support you,” Rucker told Toland. “We must be careful of our tone with one another in order to preserve bipartisan support. You would agree with that?”
“I do,” Toland said. “I’ve operated for 11 years as a conservative Democrat in a county that voted, I think, over 60 percent for President Trump. This is a red county, where I’ve worked alongside people to get things done. I think that is reflective of my values, of my characteristics and how I operate.”
“Well, I’m looking at your words today,” Rucker said. “And again, while I would agree with you the actions are far and away more important than words, words are what it is we operate with to communicate our stance on issues. The topic today is how you feel about the Legislature, and the topic today is how you’ll work with us to create a more positive environment for the business community of this state.”
Rucker’s final question centered on another of Toland’s quotes critical of lawmakers last April: “The people in (the Capitol) have systematically dismantled much of what has knit us together as Kansans the last century and a half.”
When asked to clarify his remarks, Toland said he was referring to the general loss of civility, in and out of Topeka.
“I was talking about the hyper-partisanship that we’ve seen in our state,” Toland said. “I was talking about the move away from centrist, moderate positions where we had bipartisan agreement toward more extreme positions on both sides. I was talking about the lack of communication between parties, between residents. We’ve seen a breakdown of civility in our state.
“I believe it’s had profound negative implications in our ability to pass sound public policy.”
Iolan David Toland, right, fields questions from members of the Kansas Senate Commerce Committee Thursday. A large contingent from Iola attended the hearings Wednesday and Thursday in support of Toland.
COMMENTS from Sen. Julia Lynn, the committee’s chairwoman, sparked a testy exchange between a few of her colleagues.
“I will say that I have been on this committee for 13 years, and have served with four different secretaries, and I, too, with Sen. Rucker, and Sen. Suellentrop, have had grave concerns,” the Olathe Republican said. “One thing I’ve never encountered with these nominees were letters urging us to look further into a nominee.”
Lynn received four letters critical to Toland, and more than 40 in support.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, offered a quick rebuke, as well as an apology to Toland.
“This was not an appropriate hearing this committee conducted over the past two days,” Holland said to Toland. “I will have the public know that I had two members of this committee purposely come to me before, and express so-called concerns or misgivings about you. I’m not going to reveal who those people are; they know who they are. They never told me what the specific problems were.
“All during the time you’ve been put up before this committee, there’s been whispers of, you know, this or that,” Holland continued. “My guess is this probably is coming from Virginia Crossland, down in your neck of the words.”
Virginia Crossland-Macha, also of Iola, is the vice chairwoman of the Kansas Republican Party.
“I’m upset that your children in particular have had to sit here and endure this, and watch their dad get smeared,” Holland said. “This committee should know better. I can’t apologize on behalf of the committee. I can apologize for its actions. Other members will have to speak for themselves.
“I’m truly blown away, why we have members on this committee that sit here and ask you what you know about agriculture,” he continued. “I’m not sure what our previous secretary knows about agriculture, Mr. Suavo. I knew he knew how to kick a soccer ball.
“I also don’t understand these comments about speech,” he said. “We have people in the private sector that come before us to be nominated. We’re bringing up their political free speech rights as a cudgel to beat them down, when they have every right in the marketplace to say their political viewpoints. We may find that we don’t like what they’re saying, maybe against our guy or gal, or our position, but that is your right.
“To throw that up here, it really makes me ask, what message do we send to the people of Kansas in the private sector?” Holland continued. “If the party in power is bent out of shape about some political viewpoint they have, that they’re not going to trash them through the mud.”
Republican lawmakers voiced criticism of photos of David Toland participating in a 2018 sleep study while CEO of Thrive Allen County. Members said the framed photo of Sen. Caryn Tyson at bedside was disparaging.
Holland also touched on an Internet photo featuring Toland taking part in a Thrive Allen County-sponsored sleep study last spring.
The photo depicts Toland asleep on a bed with photos of Sen. Caryn Tyson and former Gov. Sam Brownback on a nearby nightstand.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, R-Louisburg, voiced comments critical of Toland about the photo on Wednesday.
“I don’t understand what was offensive about that,” Holland said. “It in no way disparaged the people in this photo.
“I apologize to your family and your children,” Holland concluded. “Aside from a few people out there, you have the support of your community. … I hope we give you your just day.”
Suellentrop returned fire against Holland’s criticism of asking about Toland’s background. “I’m offended by a fellow senator that thinks I cannot ask a question,” Suellentrop said. “That’s out of order.”
Baumgardner, in turn, said she has been attacked by Toland supporters for her questions regarding the photo, and the motivation behind them. “I assume those ad hominem attacks will continue,” she said.
“I think (discussing the photo) was appropriate, because my colleague (Tyson) has been accused of leading the charge to have you not be appointed, and that absolutely is not true,” Baumgardner said. “She, unfortunately, is put in a no-win situation. She has to just take it. She’s had to just take it for more than a year that her picture was used in social media in that manner.”
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, said, “I wasn’t going to say anything … but I do have to express offense at the comment that implies people are making decisions based on their party position.I would hope that decisions are not based on their party or financial benefit, but based on principles that are involved.”
SEN. DINAH Sykes, D-Lenexa, grew emotional in her defense of Toland, saying several of her constituents expressed excitement upon hearing of Toland’s pending appointment.
“They were excited to have someone who cared enough about our state to come back to Kansas to raise your family. They were excited to have a business leader who knew how to bring businesses. … I think the fact you have enemies says you have done a good job.
“I am excited for the direction you’ll lead. I’m excited for the transparency you’ll bring,” she continued. “I look forward to voting for you. I think our state will be in a much better position with you leading our department of commerce.”
Sen. Rob Olson, Olathe, was the only Republican on the committee to speak out in Toland’s behalf.
“I know my party doesn’t want to do this. I’ve seen the action of the new secretary, and the action I’ve seen has been very prompt and very active on many levels. You’ve got a lot of support from your community, two days, that’s impressive to me,” Olson said. “He’s got the energy level to do this job.. I know this might be disappointing the people in this party.
Sen. Tom Holland speaks during the hearing, surrounded by Committee Chairwoman Julia Lynn, left, and Larry Alley.
THE HEARING came to an abrupt halt during Lynn’s final comments to Toland regarding a quote of his that appeared in the Topeka Capital-Journal earlier Thursday, that he was “mad as hell.”
The quote, Toland explained, came from an interview that occurred Tuesday night in a separate interview with a reporter, not in reaction to Wednesday’s hearing, and was about opponents attempting to distort his record.
At that point, Suellentrop asked for his motion to reject Toland’s nomination be called for a vote, summarily ending all debate and putting the matter to a vote.
The vote to reject the nomination was tied, 5-5, with Republicans Larry Alley, Baumgardner, Pilcher-Cook, Rucker and Suellentrop in favor. Opposed were Democrats Holland and Sikes and Republicans Bruce Givens, Jeff Longbine and Rob Olson.
The deadlock meant Lynn also was required to cast a vote. She joined those in giving a thumbs down to Toland’s nomination.
Even with the negative vote, Gov. Laura Kelly expressed confidence in Toland’s nomination in an email afterward to the Register.
“David Toland has given back to his hometown of Iola, as well as to so many other communities across the state,” Kelly said. “Kansas could not ask for a better secretary of commerce. His energy, expertise and collaborative style will ensure that businesses have the partner they deserve and that the Kansas economy continues to grow.”
The governor’s office also shared copies of dozens of letters from Allen Countians, and others from across the state in support of Toland’s nomination.