Maryland Pro-Life Unity

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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Kansas State Fair is Anything but Truthful and “Fair”

The Kansas State Fair is Anything But Truthful And “Fair”

By:  Debbie Baker      
Freelance Reporter      
316-204-6063

The folks in charge of the Kansas State Fair apparently think that the words “Abortion is Not Health Care” are too controversial for the average State Fair attendee.

The paternalistic attitude of those in charge of exhibitor booth space has manifested itself in some unethical decisions and devious actions, all in an attempt to “protect” the general public in Kansas from seeing five simple words “Abortion is Not Health Care” on the fairgrounds.

The Kansas Coalition for Life (KCFL), which has an annual prolife petition, has chosen the theme “Abortion is Not Health Care” this year, directed toward the U.S. Congress.  As they have for the last five years, KCFL attempted to secure a fair booth only to be given the run-around year after year.

This year, when there were still about 25 spaces available, Mark S. Gietzen, Chairman of the KCFL, filled out an application, which was received by the Fair Board on August 11th.  However, 2 weeks before commencement of the State Fair, KCFL was still being denied booth space. 

Mark called Denny Stoecklein, General Manager of the fair, who answered Mark’s availability question with a standard “We do not operate on a first come first served basis. We select our exhibitors based on who has the most to offer the Kansas Fair-goer.”

Denny made that statement before he knew just how popular the KCFL petition is.

KCFL’s “Abortion is Not Health Care” booth has proven to be very popular among the general public.  In early August at the Midwest Catholic Family Conference held at Century II in Wichita, KCFL’s booth was the most popular exhibit there, with people even standing in line, waiting their turn to sign.  The same thing happened at the Sedgwick County TEA party later that month; KCFL’s booth had more visitors than all the other exhibitors combined!

However, Denny’s mind was made up.  When Mark mentioned setting up shop outside the State Fair grounds on public property, Denny threatened, “We would call the police and have you arrested!”

Mark then contacted Tom Tunnell, President of the Kansas State Fair Board, who stated without hesitation that KCFL’s booth request is 225th in line and that KCFL will have to wait just like everyone else!

Tom’s statement is a direct contradiction to Denny’s earlier position that Fair vendors are chosen by their expected interest to the general public rather than on a first come first served basis.  In addition to this obvious contradiction, it is also quite a stretch of the imagination to believe that KCFL was still 225th in line after five continuous years of attempts to secure booth space at the State Fair.

Furthermore, Mr. Tunnell’s assertion is especially troubling after discovering that another exhibitor, “Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc.” had never before requested booth space at the Fair, and yet was granted space upon it’s first application in 2008.  Due to unrelated circumstances, the vendor was not able to fill the spot that year.  But again in 2009 Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. was granted booth space without ever having to wait in line.

Judging by the pedestrian traffic at the Pre-Paid Legal Services booth, they certainly did not generate even a fraction of the public interest that the KCFL booth generated, even though it was banned from the fairgrounds.

How KCFL secured real estate outside the Fair grounds without being arrested, as threatened by Denny Stoecklein, is a story within itself.

A few hours before the Fair was to begin, KCFL sent out a Press Release protesting the unfair treatment and the Fair Board’s lack of ability to handle the situation ethically and in accordance with their own rules . . . whatever they are!

At the end of the press release, Gietzen complained about his apparent total loss of First Amendment Rights, in light of Denny’s threat to have him arrested if he were to set up shop on public property outside the fairgrounds to collect petition signatures.

Within one hour, Hutchinson Police Chief, Dick Heitschmidt called Mr. Gietzen and offered space on public property outside the Fair Grounds, across the street from Gate 9.  However, occupancy was conditional.

Arbitrary and seemingly discriminatory rules included:  no table on which to sign the petitions, no signs to attract visitors, and no tent to protect the volunteers and petition forms from the rain!

Furthermore, in violation of the most basic First Amendment privileges, KCFL volunteers were instructed to remain inside the boundaries of an orange snow-fence bullpen, which was 39 feet from the sidewalk that leads pedestrians to Gate 9. Nevertheless, KCFL was very grateful to the Police Chief for his efforts, and took occupancy of the fenced-in area on day one of the Fair.

In spite of these strict and unjust conditions, KCFL managed to get thousands of signatures by calling out loudly to fair-goers, as they entered and exited Gate 9.

On September 13th, the third day of the fair, I visited the State Fair in hopes of finding information that would lead to the real reason why KCFL was barred from the fairgrounds.

I asked Police Chief Heitschmidt about First Amendment rights – specifically the forbiddance of signage, or a tent to protect volunteers from the sun and rain.  He asserted that First Amendment rights are not being violated because KCFL is being allowed to exercise freedom of speech. As long as they stay within stated boundaries, he added, there would be no risk of arrest by the Kansas Highway Patrol, which has jurisdiction throughout the state, including the Kansas State Fairgrounds.

Interestingly, by comparison, the Sedgwick County Police Department had a much different interpretation of KCFL’s First Amendment Rights during the 5 years that they occupied public property outside of the Tiller late-term abortion facility in Wichita. The Sedgwick County interpretation allowed a table, signs, chairs, a tent/umbrella, etc.

When asked, “On what basis does the Reno County Police Department interpret the First Amendment differently than the Sedgwick County Police Department?” Officer Heitschmidt again asserted that no rights are being violated.

Pressed for an explanation as to why KCFL volunteers can not walk around on public property, Officer Heitschmidt deferred to State Fair rules which, he said, extend beyond the boundaries of the Fairgrounds. He made it perfectly clear that even though KCFL was not admitted onto the fairgrounds, they still must abide by obscure “State Fair Rules” that apparently trump First Amendment Rights on public property!

The Hutchinson News reported on Wednesday, September 16th that City Attorney, Carolyn Patterson, decided that KCFL could hand out material in a designated “safe place.” This spot, though, happens to be a full 39 feet away from the public sidewalk, and therefore, places undue restrictions on the free speech rights of the volunteers for KCFL.

Was it really necessary to place KCFL 39 feet away from the sidewalk in order to be “safe?”

How are they safer 39 feet away, than they would be 5 feet away?

On Sunday, September 13th, Denny Stoecklein stated in a face to face interview that KCFL was not granted booth space because of the 225 vendors ahead of KCFL.  That is not the same answer he gave to Mr. Gietzen; that exhibitors are selected based on who has the most to offer the Kansas fair-goer.  He also added that by the time KCFL’s application was received on August 11th, there were no vacancies, and no cancellations.  This is a direct contradiction to Sue Stoecklein’s acknowledgment on August 11th that there were still 25 vacancies.

When challenged about the inconsistency of his answers, and when offered photos showing the many available booth spaces around the fairgrounds, Denny said that part of the unused space is purposely left open for what he called “green space.”  As for empty space #93 in the Meadowlark building, he believes that the space was paid for, but just not occupied for some reason.

I requested proof of payment from vendor #93 and also a list of the 225 vendors waiting in line. Denny asserted that he doesn’t have the records immediately available and suggested that the request for those records be made in writing.

As of the printing of this Press Release, no records were produced.  And KCFL volunteers remain in a bull-pen outside fairgrounds doing their best to collect signatures.  Mark Gietzen estimates they are getting about 1/10th of the number of signatures they would be getting if they had space inside the fairgrounds.

To see the original story that was printed in Life News, click here.

The KCFL petition can be seen by clicking here.

Non-Profit organizations may print this article and the photos free of charge, with acknowledgement to Debbie Baker, Freelance Reporter, 316-204-6063.

For-profit newspapers and publications may print this story in an unlimited number of copies at the following rates:

- Large Newspapers: $25.00

- Small Newspapers: $10.00

- If you are between large and small, send a dollar amount between $10 and $25.

Additional photos taken at the State Fair including the KCFL “bull-pen” and the current empty booth spaces at the Kansas State Fair, etc., are available on request, and may be used free of charge by any organization or paper that prints the article. All photos must carry the acknowledgement: “Photo by Debbie Baker, Freelance Reporter, 316-204-6063.”

Make checks payable to: Debbie Baker.

Mail to: 110 S. College Ave., Mulvane, KS 67110

E-mail story ideas and tips to: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Posted by News Hound on 10/07 at 11:59 PM
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