Commerce secretary nominee apologizes for Facebook post


Social media is again threatening to undo one of Gov. Laura Kelly’s nominees, this time over a Facebook post suggestively mocking a sitting state senator and former Gov. Sam Brownback.

Republicans raised concerns about a visual from the post during David Toland’s confirmation hearing for commerce secretary Wednesday morning before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The post on the Facebook page of Thrive Allen County — where Toland last worked as president and chief executive — was intended to promote the Allen County Regional Hospital’s sleep clinic.

The post — celebrating “sleep month” — featured a picture of Toland in bed with framed photos of Brownback and state Sen. Caryn Tyson on a nightstand, suggesting that the two conservatives were upsetting enough to keep him awake.

Republican state Sen. Molly Baumgardner quizzed Toland about the Facebook post, which she thought was a “disparaging representation” of a sitting state senator.

Toland called it a “juvenile prank” done by his staff.

“This was a juvenile mistake, and I apologize for it,” Toland told the committee. “It shouldn’t have happened. I’m responsible.

“Considering the depth and breadth of my career, almost 20 years doing this type of work, this is one instance where there’s been something like this happen,” he said. “It’s not reflecting of who I am or how I manage.”

The latest run-in with social media comes a day after Kelly withdrew Judge Jeffry Jack’s nomination for a seat on the Kansas appeals courts after a series of his sometimes-profane tweets trashing conservative politicians surfaced.

It remains to be seen how Wednesday’s hearing will affect Toland, who served as Kelly’s campaign treasurer.

For the last decade, Toland has led Thrive Allen County, a nonprofit that works as the local economic development arm and bills itself as the state’s largest advocate of rural health care.

The hearing was watched closely as Republicans have been gearing up for a fight over Toland’s confirmation as commerce secretary for several weeks.

Many of Toland’s supporters, including his wife and kids, packed the filled committee room Wednesday morning.

The governor’s chief of staff attended the hearing, as did aides for Senate President Susan Wagle.

The hearing will continue Thursday with senators resuming their questioning of the nominee.

Throughout Wednesday’s hearing, senators peppered Toland with questions about his background, including whether he personally benefited from any economic development transactions — an allegation that he pointedly denied.

“You understand that from some of the critics, their concern is that you have benefited, in fact, from what your roles are as far as public service … and some of your business dealings,” Baumgardner said without going into more detail.

Toland said he understood, but said his background was being muddied. “My critics are misrepresenting my record.”

The reviews weren’t all sour for Toland, who received praise from Republican state Sens. Jeff Longbine and Rob Olson.

Olson met with Toland early in the session to introduce the secretary nominee to a couple business executives about the possibility of relocating operations to Kansas. The senator credited Toland for reacting quickly to a business prospect.

“My dealings with you have been very positive,” Olson said. “I haven’t seen that quick of a response and action in working with someone who’s going to bring business to Kansas in my lifetime in the Legislature.”

Longbine heaped praise on Toland for a recent meeting in Emporia that included key members of the Commerce Department as well as city and county officials and local economic development leaders. They toured Emporia’s industrial parks in addition to one of the city’s largest manufacturers.

“I thought David was spectacular in his ability to deliver his message, his ability to communicate with those who were around and his vision for the department,” Longbine said.

Longbine said he was most impressed with how Toland told local officials that the state probably couldn’t help subsidize a local entrepreneurial think tank.

“David politely and professionally told them that is probably not something Commerce could participate in or should participate in at this time,” Longbine said.

“Not only did he do a good job in business and retention,” Longbine said, “but he also was politely and professionally able to tell someone that a grant to the community was not in the best interest of the entire state.”