This article is from The Pitch, enjoy!
As a state senator, Jim Barone has been accused of accosting women and using his power for his sons' gain.
By Justin Kendall
Published: March 29, 2007
A 22-year-old Kansas Senate intern had all the guys' eyes during the 2005 legislative session. The Washburn University senior was an intern for Senate President Stephen Morris. She was friendly and confident, energetic and gregarious; her smile was sweet and her eyes piercing.
It started as a bet on a basketball game. Kansas state Sen. Jim Barone bet her dinner that his alma mater, Pittsburg State University, would whip Washburn. But Washburn won the January 26 game, 76-61. Barone wanted to pay up.
Barone — a chubby, graying and balding anti-choice, pro-gun Democrat from Frontenac, Kansas — wasn't just being friendly. The then-63-year-old was in his eighth year as a lawmaker. In that time, he'd earned a reputation for latching on to pretty young women at the Capitol. Barone asked for the intern's cell phone number, and she gave it to him. She didn't think a senator 41 years her senior would call her. But Barone called — often.
He'd call and leave messages for her saying she could call him at any hour; he'd be up all night. Barone called one evening in the waning days of the session. He wanted to get together with the intern. She had gone out for drinks with co-workers at Terry's Bar and Grill in Topeka, a hot spot for lawmakers and statehouse staff during the session. She laughed when she saw Barone's name on her caller ID, but she was "a little freaked out," says a senior Senate staffer who was with the woman that evening.
"She was laughing, but she thought it was going too far," according to the senior Senate staffer.
Barone told her he was going to stop by Terry's because he had a present for her, homemade wine from southeast Kansas. She didn't want to meet him. But, finally, she gave in.
"We have to be very discreet," Barone told her.
Discreet meant that the married Barone would give the wine to the intern outside the bar.
The young woman told her co-workers to stay inside the bar while she fetched the wine. Barone dropped off the bottle, and the woman returned to the bar. But the young woman's co-workers had seen enough.
"When he starts calling an intern and making unwanted advances," a co-worker who was at Terry's that night tells the Pitch, "that's when it crosses the line."
The 22-year-old intern wasn't the first allegation of harassment against Barone. The Pitch has learned of at least two other instances, dating back to Gov. Bill Graves' administration.
But his problems don't end there. The senator has used his position to get one of his sons out of legal trouble and to protect another son's lobbying interests. Barone's harassment of women and his abuse of power have led members of his own party to remove him from prominent positions in the Senate and to publicly question his ability to serve. The gift exchange was the last straw for a senior Senate staffer, who reported Barone to Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley later that session.
"I have never gone to the minority leader to do anything like that before, but because I was familiar with Barone's reputation, and because I felt this particular intern was vulnerable and naïve, I thought, I'm going to put a stop to this," the staff member tells the Pitch. "The bottom line is, what was he doing asking an intern for her phone number? What was he doing calling and leaving messages for her? That right there is incredibly questionable behavior."
Hensley confirmed the story with the Pitch. He says he confronted Barone about the phone calls to the intern.
"I visited with him about it, and he denied it," Hensley tells the Pitch. "But I also had a conversation with the young woman, who was pretty emphatic that that's what happened."
The intern also played voice mail messages for Hensley. However, the woman never filed a formal complaint against Barone, Hensley says.
Hensley's office had heard complaints about Barone before.
About seven years ago, a couple of bureaucrats reported Barone to Hensley for allegedly making repeated phone calls to a female employee of the state's human resources department. The employee was on the verge of filing a sexual harassment suit but agreed not to if the alleged phone calls stopped. Hensley told the bureaucrats to call him if there were other complaints. He never heard from them again.
Hensley can't remember whether he spoke with Barone about the earlier alleged phone calls.
"I have to say that I don't recall that I did," Hensley tells the Pitch. "I may have, but I don't recall that I did. My memory is real fuzzy on that deal."
No official complaints were filed in these instances.
Another woman alleges that Barone tried to swap his support for favors. The woman was a citizen working to lobby the Kansas Legislature, and she says Barone made advances toward her after taking an interest in her cause.
Things went bad from the start. When the woman introduced herself to Barone outside a committee meeting, she says Barone ogled her, looking her up and down, and then said, in a deep voice, "Really?"
"I totally did not expect that at all," the woman tells the Pitch. "I've dealt with many state officials, and they don't do that."
In future meetings, she says, Barone made her feel more uneasy. When the senator would shake her hand in private, he'd place his left hand on top of hers and hold it there. She thought it was strange, but she "didn't want to ruffle any feathers," she says. "He was the only person willing to help me."
One night while discussing the issue, Barone allegedly told her that she was "a very attractive woman."
The woman told Barone that she wanted to stick to the issue.
Barone made no further advances that night, she says, but then he started calling her "baby" in conversations. "I didn't encourage him," the woman tells the Pitch. "I let it go because I really wanted him to help me." Finally, the woman alleges, Barone suggested that they get together.
"I really appreciate what you're doing for us," the woman says she told Barone, "but I'm not interested in any fling or affair. I'm a married woman."
She says he was undeterred. "What two people do behind closed doors is their business," he allegedly told her.
"Look, I'm not going to have a fling with you, period," the woman claims she told him.
Then, she says, Barone lost his cool, telling her: "You owe me."
"I don't owe you anything," the woman says she told Barone. "Aren't you a state senator?"
"You're not even my constituent," Barone allegedly told her. Then, the woman says, Barone became defensive and told her that she had come on to him.
Barone kept calling after she turned him down — for six years, the woman says.
The woman stopped returning his calls.
This year, Hensley has politically neutered Barone, removing the Senator from three important committee positions. In January of this year, Hensley stripped Barone of his position as ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which controls the state's budget. In February, Hensley declined to reappoint Barone to the Legislative Building Committee. In March, Hensley pulled Barone from the Kansas Bioscience Authority.
"That's unheard of," says a former co-worker of the intern, who asked not to be named. "What that tells me is the Democrat leadership in the Senate has had enough of him and is tired of dealing with the complaints about him and has basically clipped his wings."
Asked about why he removed Barone from key committees, Hensley read a statement to the Pitch by phone last week in which he said Barone had become a "liability to me and to our caucus" because of his behavior. "My decision to remove him from that position was an accumulation of numerous complaints heard through the years from fellow legislators, lobbyists, state agency heads and others concerned with Sen. Barone's behavior. He has had the consistent pattern of using his position as state senator to mistreat and abuse people and advance his own personal agenda," Hensley said. "Harry Truman had a sign on his desk saying 'The buck stops here.' That same adage applies to decisions I make as the senate minority leader. If [former U.S. Speaker of the House] Denny Hastert had followed this adage when a member of his caucus became a liability, he wouldn't today be sitting on the back row of the U.S. House."
In 2004, Jim Barone narrowly won re-election, edging his opponent by 317 votes. Barone told The Pittsburg Morning Sun that his victory proved that "millionaires can't buy an election, negative campaigning doesn't pay off and integrity and public service does count."
But integrity has been lacking in Barone's behavior on the Senate floor. He isn't above showing up his political opponents — or misleading lobbyists about which way his vote will go.
Barone worked for 30 years in St. Louis for Southwestern Bell. He had been an executive with the telephone company, working in "government relations, operational controls and fiscal management," according to the Morning Sun.
After retiring, Barone returned home to southeast Kansas. When Barone and his wife, Donita, settled in Frontenac, it was a homecoming of sorts. He had grown up in Crawford County in a small coal-mining township called Camp 50, according to the Morning Sun. He graduated from Pittsburg State University in 1962.
His career with the phone company led him away from home. But his political career led him back to Frontenac. In 1996, Barone won his first Senate race.
"When he started out about 10 years ago, he came on like he was going to do the job for the people," says a statehouse source who asked not to be named. "To most people ... his five favorite words are 'What's in it for me?'"
Barone is a restless soul on the Senate floor. He bites his fingernails. He swings and reclines in his chair. He frequently disappears into the Senate break room, out of sight from the Senate gallery. Barone refers to himself in the third person: "this senator."
Last year, Barone helped torpedo a move to revive legislation sought by the regents. Barone was reportedly on the floor yelling at members of his own party not to vote for the bill. The move failed. Afterward, Barone shouted to a state official. When he had the guy's attention, he started rubbing his index and middle fingers together as if he were sharpening a blade. He then made a throat-slitting motion with his fingers and started brushing down his coat as if wiping off the blood spurting from his neck.
"You should have talked to us about this," Barone yelled.
A year earlier, Barone crossed Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on a bill targeting abortion clinics. An amendment was offered to regulate all outpatient medical clinics equally. Barone gave a lobbyist his word that he'd vote for the amendment. When it came time for the vote, Barone voted against it. The amendment failed. When the vote failed, Barone glared at the governor's staff, licked his index finger, and waved it in the air as if to chalk up a victory.
Sebelius vetoed the bill.
Chris Barone, Jim Barone' s middle child, called KU Medical Center on the morning of February 12, 2004, demanding to see Dr. Paul Wetzel. Secretary Jennifer Howse told him that the doctor was booked until March 25. Chris Barone, who was 38 years old then, wasn't satisfied. He demanded the doctor's pager number. When Howse refused to give him the number, he berated her and called her a "bitch," according to court documents.
Howse hung up on him. When Chris Barone called back, Howse transferred him to nurse Carolyn Paul. Chris Barone demanded to speak with Howse's supervisor. Paul told him the supervisor was out of the office. He demanded the supervisor's phone number. Paul refused to give it to him. Chris Barone then threatened to come to the hospital and "raise hell." Before hanging up, he told Paul, "Then fuck you to you, cunt."
The women called the University of Kansas Police Department. Officer Travis Marshall responded at 10 a.m.
"Both receptionists expressed concern for their safety due to these statements," Marshall wrote in his report.
Howse wanted to press charges.
Chris Barone called again. Marshall picked up the phone and asked Chris Barone to come to the hospital and make a statement. He refused. He said he didn't believe Marshall was really a police officer and hung up on him. But Chris Barone called one last time. He asked Howse if she had called the police. She told him she had. Finally, he agreed to come to the hospital.
The officer met Chris Barone in the lobby, where he was arrested for telephone harassment. He was released and told not to return unless he was in need of medical assistance.
Jim Barone had some leverage that could be used to get his son out of trouble: He was the ranking Democrat on the Senate budget committee, which controls KU Medical Center's budget.
A day after the arrest, Melanie Coffman, an official from KU Med Center Executive Dean Barbara Atkinson's office, told Howse that Sen. Barone had called Atkinson and said "that he wanted the charges dropped against his son," court documents say.
Coffman, another Med Center official and an attorney for the hospital asked Howse three more times over the next four weeks to drop the charges. Court documents say Howse was offered apologies and flowers in exchange for dropping the charges. Each time, she refused.
Meanwhile, Chris Barone filed a complaint with the hospital against Howse. In his complaint, which Coffman took by phone, he claimed that Howse ignored his request for medical treatment.
"I am coughing up pure white foam. I cannot eat, and KU is denying me care," he told Coffman. He added that he wasn't "a threat to anyone," and he apologized in the complaint "for whatever I said to the lady who filed charges against me."
In his complaint, Chris Barone also said, "My father is a senator, and my brother is a lawyer."
Howse filed a follow-up police report on February 16. She claimed that Coffman had approached her about dropping the charges. "When Melanie told me she was a rep of Dr. Atkinson and that Sen. Barone had called — I felt some pressure, but I told my side of the story and I told the truth," Howse wrote in the report.
Coffman asked if Howse would accept an apology from Chris Barone and drop the charges, according to the police report. "I said, 'I don't care who his daddy is, I am not going to drop the charges.'"
On March 9, 2004, Chris Barone was scheduled to appear in municipal court on his telephone harassment charge.
Howse was there, but Chris Barone didn't show. A judge issued a warrant for his arrest.
Hours after the hearing, Howse was called to the human resources department to talk to Chris McGoldrick, the senior business administrator for internal medicine, and Saunny Jordan, human resources manager for internal medicine. They told her she was fired. (Jordan declined to comment; McGoldrick no longer works at the medical center.)
In court documents, Howse claimed that McGoldrick said, "Sometimes people get fired for political reasons." She also claimed that McGoldrick told her four or five times, "Surely you knew this was going to happen." Howse kept telling him, "No."
Howse called Officer Marshall on March 11 to complain that she had been fired for pursuing the charges against Chris Barone. Howse filed a police report with Marshall.
On April 30, 2004, Chris Barone pleaded guilty to charges of telephone harassment. He was fined $200.
Howse filed a lawsuit on July 22, 2004, against KU Medical Center, Atkinson and another hospital official. She claimed in the suit that hospital administrators were more interested in "pleasing a Kansas Senator who is responsible for funding the Medical Center" than the "best interests" of the hospital.
The case settled out of court on November 3, 2005. Terms of the settlement are confidential.
"The matter was resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties," says Carrie Mulholland Brous, Howse's attorney.
Chris Barone has had other legal problems. In June 2003, Chris Barone was arrested in Crawford County for possession of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia. He still owes Jackson County, Missouri, $8,821.43 in unpaid property taxes on 4547 Fairmount Avenue, which he purchased from his father in 2003. Jim Barone bought the house in 2001 and deeded it to Chris in 2003.
Jim Barone doesn't want to talk about his family. He refuses to talk about his sons — Chris and Kevin — or answer questions about using his influence to try to get Chris Barone out of legal jams.
"You can do all of the research you want on me," Jim Barone tells the Pitch. "It'll be hard to find me talking about my family."
During the 2006 session, Senate leaders were scrambling to get a 21-vote majority to pass an expanded casino gaming bill. Lawmakers saw gambling as a way to pay for an increase in school funding. But Jim Barone, a self-professed supporter of gambling expansion in Kansas, was balking at the bill. His reason: a provision in the bill could prevent his son Kevin from keeping a job.
In early March of last year, Barone met with officials of the Sumner County Economic Development Commission in south central Kansas, according to the Morning Sun. He told the county's economic development team that they had a shot of being included in the gaming bill.
About the same time as the meeting, the county hired Jim Barone's son Kevin to lobby on behalf of the county's gaming interests. Barone's fee for lobbying the Legislature was $1,250 a month plus expenses, according to The Caldwell Messenger.
But Sumner, in farm country south of Wichita, had never been discussed as a potential casino site.
Hensley, the minority leader, blasted Barone in an editorial in The Wellington Daily News, saying Barone had misled the people of Sumner County. "I find it disturbingly coincidental that Sen. Barone's son, Kevin Barone, was then hired to lobby for Sumner County," Hensley wrote. "In my opinion, no legislator should place their personal interests above the interests of every other Kansan."
Barone was unable to deliver gambling to Sumner County. He would eventually cast his vote in favor of expanded gambling, though the measure failed.
Lawmakers added a conflict-of-interest clause to the bill, barring legislators and their family members from working in the gaming industry until they'd been out of office for five years.
"It wasn't an accident that we wrote a bill to take care of what we saw as very egregious overstepping of bounds," an architect of the bill, who asked that his name not be used, tells the Pitch.
A former legislator adds, "It just smells bad when there's an opportunity for a legislator's family member to gain from a piece of legislation that the legislature is voting on. I think anybody can see that."
Barone complained to reporters that the conflict-of-interest provision was "far overreaching." His opposition came at the expense of his home county. Crawford County voters had passed a referendum in 2005 in support of expanding casino gambling in the county.
Sumner County has retained Kevin Barone to lobby lawmakers again in 2007.
The hallway outside room No. 181-E is empty except for a security guard sitting next to the entrance to the Capitol building. Sen. Jim Barone has two minutes before he has to be at the Senate Ways and Means Committee. A Pitch reporter introduces himself to Barone as he exits his office. Barone glares at the reporter, leaving the reporter's outstretched hand hanging in the air. "Come here," Barone grumbles, stomping back into his office.
Barone storms past three secretaries. He goes no farther than the doorway. Barone's office is decorated with Pittsburg State University memorabilia — a red-and-gold PSU rug sits in the doorway to his office. A framed portrait of PSU's mascot, a gorilla, hangs on the wall next to his desk. A gold-colored statue of a gorilla sits next to a gold donkey on his desk. He leaves the door half-open. The lights are off, and the room has the gray haze of a midday afternoon.
"Do you have that statement?" Barone asks one of the secretaries.
"Yeah, I just printed it," she says.
"Let's see it," Barone says. He grabs the statement, places it on a table near the door and signs it.
The statement was prepared before Barone knew what the reporter wanted to discuss. When asked about the incident with the intern, he says, "You know, I ain't got nothing to say about that." He looks at the ceiling of his office in disbelief. "That wasn't true," he adds somberly. "Have you talked to the lady?"
Barone storms off to his committee meeting.
The statement isn't on Senate letterhead. "From the Office of Jim Barone" reads the top of the white page.
"I have always made it a practice not to respond to rumors, gossip, or innuendos and I do not intend to change my position now," it reads. "It has always been my long standing personal belief that my personal family life and the personal lives of my family members are just that, personal and private family matters.
"My job as a citizen legislator is to represent the folks back home to the best of my ability and my conservative democratic district doesn't always think exactly like my state party. I am proud to be a lifelong Kansas democrat but my number one concern is taking care of business for the people who elected me.
"The folks in my district are like family and family comes first."
A week later, Barone invites a Pitch reporter back to his office to discuss his work as a senator. Barone has only a few minutes before he has to leave to take pictures with legislative pages. He promises a Pitch reporter that he'll finish the interview later if he has to skip out.
Barone spends much of the interview dodging questions. Asked about his demotion on Ways and Means and the Buildings Committee, Barone pauses and says, "Ask the senator who did that." Then he dismisses the question by saying, "That laundry has been washed. I don't see any value in re-plowing that field." Barone adds, "I'm an optimist. You can't unfry an egg. That egg's been fried."
Barone says the demotions haven't hurt his standing in the Democratic Party. "My sense is I still enjoy the same amount of respect that I've always had," Barone says.
Barone runs through his legislative agenda. He clicks his pen. He bites his fingernails. He jingles the change in his pocket. He unbuckles the watch that has been jangling on his wrist. Barone reclines in his chair with his hands on his head, as if he were doing situps.
Barone opens a manila folder on his desk and runs through the Senate bills he's working on. He wants to set up a riverfront authority for Fort Scott and Bourbon counties. The bill made it out of committee and was headed for floor debate. He's pushing a scholarship fund for students who graduate from Frontenac High School; every student would get a scholarship, $800 maximum, toward any postsecondary education. He also wants to create sinkhole insurance.
From the shelf behind him, Barone grabs a copy of Newt Gingrich's Winning the Future. He reads the inscription inside: "To Senator Jim Barone, your friend Newt Gingrich. Good luck on your price posting bill."
The former Republican speaker of the house visited Topeka last year.
"He heard about my bill," Barone says proudly. He's referring to a bill he introduced that would require hospitals to post the costs of 25 common outpatient procedures, such as chest X-rays, mammograms and blood tests. "He very aggressively supports it."
As Barone departs for his photo-op, he says he will discuss only some aspects of the gambling bill. "Remember the ground rules," Barone warns. "I'm not going to talk about [family], but I'll talk about my work up here.
"The bill didn't make it. I supported the bill, voted for it, but it didn't make it. Check the record."
Ten minutes later, returning from the photo-op, Barone tells his secretary to fetch a transcript of the testimony he delivered before the Federal and State Affairs Committee last year.
Asked about corruption in gambling, Barone says, "Is there corruption in gaming? What evidence do you have of that? There's a history of corruption in every facet of our lives: state government, highway contracting, schools, newspapers — fair?"
The secretary returns with his testimony. "I can exert very little financial control in my own household," Barone's testimony, dated March 10, 2006, reads. "Most of you know that Donita runs it, and I guarantee you that very few, if any of us, can exert strict financial control over adult family members not residing in our households. How are we to know what their business activities are?"
Satisfied with his answer, Barone changes the subject and calls himself "an old man ... on Social Security." A Pitch reporter says Barone isn't hurting for money with his legislative salary.
"You a gambling man?" Barone asks. "I bet you a Coke, a lunch, a steak that you make more than I do up here."
The reporter declines to take the bet.
Barone digs in his bag.
"I just happen to have something here, and I'll gladly give it to you to do away with any misconceptions of what we make," Barone says. He takes out his W2 tax form, passes it to the reporter and reads the numbers with satisfaction: $15,084.21.
"Publish it," he says.