Kansas City Star columnist Steve Rose handed in his resignation Saturday after Kansas Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning accused Rose of falsely attributing statements to him about Medicaid expansion.
Rose, who is not an employee of The Star but has written a political column for the newspaper for years, told KCUR that The Star accepted his resignation on Monday.
In a brief phone interview, Rose said he has been writing columns for nearly 50 years “and I’ve never made anything up and I can prove that what he is saying is absolutely wrong.”
Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, was unavailable for interviews on Monday. But in a news release, he said that Rose’s Saturday column falsely stated that he “had ‘confessed’ to having particular opinions about people who use Medicaid.”
“They never interviewed me, nor did they pull these statements from a public speech or comments I made online,” Denning said. “Steve Rose made these ‘facts’ up, The Star printed them, and now they have gone viral.”
Denning said he and Rose have not spoken since 2016.
On Monday, Denning sued The Star for defamation, alleging Rose’s column contained “numerous false statements which have exposed Senator Denning to public hatred, contempt and ridicule.”
Attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit is a profanity-ridden email Denning allegedly received after the column ran. The writer urges Denning to resign “and go back to pushing shopping carts at a Walmart.”
Also attached is an exhibit purporting to be an email Rose wrote on Saturday to Denning’s chief of staff, Ethan Patterson, after the column was published and Denning complained. In it, Rose wrote: “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.”
Editors at The Star could not be reached for comment late Monday.
Rose told KCUR that he had already resigned by the time he sent the email to Patterson and was just trying to defuse the situation.
“Frankly, I was just trying to help out and not have a big hoopla in The Star about it,” Rose said. “I was trying to save that from happening just because I knew he was angry. … I thought that would suffice. He didn’t feel like he had drawn blood, and all it did was it escalated.”
Rose’s column was headlined, “Why hasn’t Kansas expanded Medicaid? This GOP leader has a long list of excuses.” In it, he said that Denning “finally confessed to me his reasons” for rejecting Medication expansion. “His explanation, which I will get to in a moment, is pathetic,” Rose wrote.
Rose, who is considered to be a moderate Republican, credited Denning with saying that “it is widely known by physicians that Medicaid patients often do not show up for their appointments, thus robbing other patients of those hard-to-get time slots.
“The senator said he resents able-bodied Kansans, regardless of their income, who abuse the system by accepting free medical care when they refuse to work. (The fact is, the overwhelming number of potential recipients who would be eligible for Medicaid are either disabled or working.),” Rose wrote.
In his interview with KCUR, Rose said Denning has made it sound “like I did something wrong, and I didn’t do anything wrong. But you’ll hear more about that as you get more facts.”
Kansas is one of 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid, and Denning in the past has made it clear he does not intend to allow a debate on the issue until after the Legislature addresses the state’s school finance system.
Denning’s lawsuit against The Star seeks more than $75,000 in damages.
Before writing a column for The Star, Rose for many years owned the Sun newspaper group, for which he wrote a front-page column. The group, which was founded by Rose's parents, published weekly newspapers in Johnson County and other parts of the metropolitan area.
Rose sold the newspapers, which are no longer published.
Dan Margolies is a senior reporter and editor at KCUR. You can reach him on Twitter @DanMargolies.