Candidate accused of ‘voter intimidation’
A candidate for a local Kansas Senate seat says his opponent is threatening businesses that support him.
The “intimidation” alleged by Steve Fitzgerald, candidate for the 5th State Senate District seat consisted of two phone calls to local businesses in which the caller said she would stop patronizing them while they continued to display Fitzgerald’s campaign signs.
His opponent, Kelly Kultala, called the charge hogwash.
One of those calls came from a number that corresponds to Kultala. The caller left a message Aug. 26 on the answering machine at Jerry’s Nursery, 5319 N. 139th St., Kansas City, Kan.
A woman’s voice says on that recording, “Ah, hello, I was wondering if you were supporting Steve Fitzgerald for the state Senate race. I noticed that you have a big sign out in front of your business and he’s kind of a creepy nut out of Leavenworth. We’ve spent a lot of money at your business and we will not be coming there any longer as long as you still support …” at which point the recording ends.
Dan Jones is the owner of Jerry’s Nursery, which is next door to where the Fitzgerald campaign sign is displayed, Jerry’s Outdoor Equipment.
Jones said he felt intimidated “monetarily,” although “as far as I know I’ve never had any personal business from her.”
Jones said he thought Kultala's past positions as a member of local agency boards “she's going to stop me from further business with any of those organizations,” although no such statement is made on the recording.
Jones’ brother, Gary Jones, then called Kultala and told her she could put up her own sign at his business, which she did.
Another business owner, Steve Flanagan, owner of Buggy Bath Car Wash and Ensign Storage Units, 401 N. 130th St., said the manager of Ensign had received a similar call. After talking to Fitzgerald about it, Flanagan said he had the manager, Rachel Koch, listen to the recording at Jerry’s nursery and she identified the voice as the same person.
Fitzgerald said he thought the phone calls were an effort to “suppress voter involvement.”
As to why the campaign sat on the phone calls for more than a month, Bob Keane, Fitzgerald’s campaign manager, said that the campaign waited “while we sought advice on the legal ramifications.”
Neither he nor Fitzgerald named any such ramifications.
In a statement, Fitzgerald said, “Mrs. Kultala is personally engaged in voter intimidation in the district.”
Asked about his use of the phrase “voter intimidation,” Fitzgerald shied away from the description and said it was a “legal term.”
Keane said earlier that the campaign had not consulted a lawyer before deciding to use the term.
In a statement released Tuesday afternoon, Kultala said, “At no time have I ever made threatening remarks to Mr. Jones, or any other business owner. Any such accusation is completely fabricated.” She continued, “In regard to the phone message I left for Mr. Jones, I was simply expressing my concerns that he would promote my opponent at his business, Jerry’s Nursery.”
Kultala said she did not call Buggy Bath or Ensign Storage and didn’t know who made the call.
Of the Fitzgerald campaign's allegations of voter intimidation, Kultala said in a phone interview, “I think they just used the word for sensationalism and got people to come to a press conference.”