Less than two months after former Commerce Secretary Antonio Soave announced his candidacy to represent Kansas’ 2nd District, he’s ending his campaign. On Nov. 2, the Kansas City Star reported, “At least nine of Soave’s friends or business partners, including his law school roommate, received Commerce Department contracts for consulting and marketing services.” Soave probably realized that voters aren’t crazy about government officials who hand hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to their buddies and associates.
One of these associates clearly wasn’t a buddy: Paola Ghezzo sued Soave this summer for allegedly using her $500,000 investment in their firm (Capistrano Italia) for expenses unrelated to the business. According to Soave’s response to the lawsuit, Ghezzo “repeatedly” refused to assume greater responsibility for running Capistrano Italia after he became commerce secretary, so he “offered to possibly explore finding her a consulting (job) with the Kansas Department of Commerce.” He found her one that paid $6,000 per month for “well over one year.”
Soave’s response argues that Ghezzo “lacked the expertise, experience, time, interest, discipline, and entrepreneurial drive necessary to assume primary responsibility and directional control of Capistrano Italia’s operations.” It also accuses her of ignoring her responsibilities, showing up to work “sporadically” and spending “much of her time overseas in Italy.” But these shortcomings apparently didn’t disqualify her from taking $72,000 in taxpayer money every year.
Soave says Ghezzo defamed him to put his job as commerce secretary at risk. His attorneys say this “caused its intended effect – the Governor’s office placed significant pressure on Soave in June 2017 to resign his post as Kansas’s Commerce Secretary.” So he did. But when Soave left the department earlier this year, Gov. Sam Brownback praised his “great vision” and said, “We wish him well in his new endeavors.” When Brownback was recently asked about firing Soave, he said, “Uh, no, no. He’s a, you know, he’s a good guy. But you’d need to ask him his own reasons for doing that. He’s a good man.”
Only after the Kansas City Star released the story about Soave awarding at least nine state contracts to friends and associates did Brownback admit that he had been fired. A statement from his office explains that Soave “did a number of positive things but also presented a number of problems that resulted in his termination. Among those problems, he entered into several consulting contracts that reflected a lack of judgment and that the Governor felt were inappropriate.” Why has Brownback been so sheepish about admitting this? Even after the disturbing arrangement with Ghezzo surfaced, Brownback explicitly denied firing Soave and couldn’t stop telling us what a great guy he is.
This would be a sordid and disingenuous response even if Soave wasn’t running for Congress at the time. But that fact makes Brownback’s equivocations even more galling – didn’t voters have a right to know that Soave had, in fact, been “terminated” from the Department of Commerce? Brownback clearly thought his behavior was unacceptable, so what’s with the evasive answers? Was he just covering for a friend? Didn’t he think Soave’s actions were relevant to the Kansans who live in the 2nd district?
Thanks to diligent reporting by the Kansas City Star, we’re much more informed about Soave’s record at the Department of Commerce. But our governor was happy to let Soave advance his political career without telling his fellow Kansans the truth.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.