The second day of David Toland's confirmation hearing devolved into partisan bitterness Thursday as lawmakers on a Senate panel questioned the experience and temperament of the governor's pick to lead the Kansas Department of Commerce.
Republicans made passing reference to behind-the-scenes concerns they heard from people in Iola, where Toland led economic development efforts for the past 11 years, and the panel's ranking Democrat chastised his colleagues for inappropriate behavior.
The panel voted to make an unfavorable recommendation of Toland when his confirmation goes before the full Senate.
Toland earned national accolades for his work as executive director of Thrive Allen County, where he helped build a new hospital and grocery store. He served as Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's campaign treasurer before she nominated him to take over an agency overwhelmed with scrutiny under past administrations.
Sen. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, said he was the biggest critic of former Commerce secretary Antonio Soave, who resigned while facing a lawsuit alleging financial misconduct.
Suellentrop highlighted Toland's lack of experience with agriculture and aircraft industries, or specific economic incentives offered through the state.
"We've been absent a qualified secretary for the past eight years," Suellentrop said. "It’s my opinion that we need someone with a strong depth of knowledge of what the state’s about, how it operates, the programs that are advantageous to us, recruitment of personnel, the education of that personnel. There is a substantial, I think, shortfall in your application."
Toland reminded Suellentrop that the Senate unanimously confirmed Soave's appointment by former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.
"Senator," Toland said, "I have seven years of urban economic development and community development experience. I have 11 years of rural economic development and community development experience. I am a small business owner. By comparison, my predecessor was a soccer coach and a hand model."
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, and Sen. Molly Baumbardner, R-Louisburg, renewed concerns about the way Toland conducted business in Iola.
Lynn, the committee chairwoman, said she received complaints about Toland's "tone and professionalism." The dealbreaker for her was reading a quote published by The Topeka Capital-Journal in which Toland said he was "mad as hell" with the distortion of his work at Thrive Allen County.
"Is he going to say that when he doesn't get a deal he wants?" Lynn said.
Baumgardner said Toland's supporters were hostile with senators as they left Wednesday's hearing.
"I assume that ad hominem attacks will continue," Baumgardner said.
Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, admonished his colleagues for expressing concerns based on "whispers of this or that."
"I'm upset that your children in particular have had to sit 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. The other members have to speak for themselves.”
Holland's remarks touched off a firestorm of indignation from Republicans on the panel. Suellentrop said he was offended. Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, told Toland, who stood at a lectern in front of the panel, he was welcome to sit down. Toland stayed.
"The chairwoman could have done this all without you being here," Pilcher-Cook said.
Pilcher-Cook said she intended to inform Toland and the audience about the committee process and didn't mean to be disrespectful to anyone.
Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said Toland's enemies are evidence he does a good job. The Johnson County business community is excited, Sykes said, to have a commerce secretary who cared enough about Kansas to leave his position as a developer for the District of Columbia and return to his hometown to raise a family.
"If we're doing our job, we're going to make people mad every day," Sykes said. "That's just a fact. But I'm excited for the direction that you will lead. I am excited for the transparency you will bring. I’m excited that you’re going to dig into these programs and be able to present to us and say, 'These are effective programs, this one has strayed away from the intent.' "
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, said he has been impressed with Toland and that he would support the appointment.
"I know that may disappoint people in my party, but I think that's the right move," Olson said.
Kelly said she looks forward to the full vote before the Senate.
"He represents the best and brightest our state has to offer," Kelly said. "David’s energy, expertise and collaborative style will ensure that businesses have the partner they deserve and that the Kansas economy continues to grow.”