Politics & Government

Kansas lawmaker sues The Star, contributing columnist Steve Rose for defamation

Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, right, R-Overland Park, at budget briefing in January. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, right, R-Overland Park, at budget briefing in January. (AP Photo/John Hanna) AP

Kansas Senate Republican Leader Jim Denning is suing The Kansas City Star and contributing columnist Steve Rose, alleging Rose falsely attributed statements to him about his views on Medicaid expansion.

Denning, of Overland Park, also released emails showing that Rose offered to resign as columnist if Denning’s office dropped its inquiry into comments that Rose attributed to Denning.

“The Kansas City Star has been made aware of a lawsuit filed in response to a column written by Steve Rose and published on Jan. 26,” said Colleen McCain Nelson, editorial page editor and vice president of The Star. “The column has been removed from kansascity.com while The Star investigates. Mr. Rose was a guest columnist and was not an employee of The Kansas City Star.”

Denning filed the lawsuit on Monday in Johnson County District Court. In his complaint, he alleges one count of defamation, saying that Rose and The Star knew the comments attributed to him were false and that he has been exposed to public hatred, contempt and ridicule. Attached to the suit as an exhibit is a profanity-laced email sent to Denning.

He is seeking in excess of $75,000 in damages.

Rose maintains that Denning said everything that appeared in the column.

In a column published last weekend, Rose wrote that “One powerful conservative Republican leader in the Kansas Senate, who has fought the expansion of Medicaid, finally confessed to me his reasons for rejecting it.” Later, Rose wrote, “he also claimed, even today, that Kansas cannot afford the $14 million per year it would need to spend.”

The thrust of the column is that Denning offered “lame excuses” for not expanding Medicaid in Kansas. Medicaid expansion is expected to be a major issue of the 2019 legislative session. Gov. Laura Kelly is a staunch proponent.

In the column, Rose writes that Denning said Medicaid should never have been passed in the first place and that Medicaid patients often do not show up for their appointments. Rose wrote that Denning said he resents able-bodied Kansans who abuse the system by accepting free medical care when they refuse to work.

In a statement Monday, Denning said that he hasn’t spoken to Rose in two-and-a-half years and that Rose did not interview him for the column.

“Even if The Star retracts the column, as it should immediately, the damage is done. That’s why I filed a lawsuit this afternoon in Johnson County District Court. This sloppy treatment of the truth by journalists has to end. The public needs to rely on reporting based on truth,” he said.

Rose said that he did not make up the statements attributed to Denning.

“I’d been writing columns in this community for almost 50 years and I have never been accused of making up facts or making up quotes or making up anything,” Rose said.

Rose said he had not spoken to Denning since the April 13, 2018, publication of a column in which he retracted his previous endorsement of Denning.

Rose said the statements made by Denning came before that column was published.

“We’ve always met and chatted and talked and it’s been that kind of a relationship,” Rose said.

On Monday, Denning released emails that show Ethan Patterson, Denning’s chief of staff, asking Rose to tell him when he talked to Denning about the costs of expanding Medicaid or to supply the source of Denning’s quote.

Rose wrote to Patterson: “I think Jim and you both are right. I would like to make this suggestion. Let it drop, and I will resign my column in The Star, effective today.”

Rose said on Tuesday that he had already resigned on Saturday but thought making the offer to Denning’s office would be the easiest way to handle the situation.