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Published: Sunday, 3/30/2003

‘VIP' takes stand for bag in hand

Homeland security can be such a pain. Long lines, heightened scrutiny, pervasive suspicions, picky, picky, picky. From airports to arenas and every substantial public gathering place in between, nothing is business as usual.

Bags, personal belongings, and bodies are checked and double-checked for anything untoward or even remotely terrorist in potential. No one likes the post 9/11 paranoia that paints even the most benign settings and circumstances with a broad brush of insecurity, but Americans mostly accept the intrusions on their time and property as the price to be paid in the age of terrorism.

But Ohio State Rep. Sally Conway Kilbane is different. Special. A self-important exception to the homeland security rule. The third-term legislator from the Cleveland suburb of Rocky River is, after all, chairman of the Appropriations Committee. She's a Very Important Person, a legislator of high standing in the Ohio House.

Clearly, the security guards and State Highway Patrol officer who attempted a routine inspection of her purse as she tried to enter a government building in Columbus didn't recognize the prominent politician in their presence or worse, didn't care. Either way, the lawmaker's purse was searched.

Representative Kilbane didn't make it easy. While she allowed her briefcase to be opened and examined, she twice objected to security requests to display the contents of her purse before proceeding to business in the Riffe Center. The first time she refused to comply, she attempted to reach an elevator before security shut it off.

When she finally relented and allowed officers to look in her purse, she reportedly snapped, “What do you think I have, a bomb?” Later, the same day, our VIP encountered the same security routine and again put up a fuss to follow security instructions. An incensed Mrs. Kilbane said a patrol officer told her the issue wasn't open for discussion.

The nerve. She'd have his badge. Or at least she'd complain to an aide of Gov. Bob Taft about the “police-state mentality” she was forced to endure. “I don't know how many gray-haired, middle-aged terrorists are running around,” the offended legislator sniffed, referring to her appearance.

Still, the Republican, who likely has no quarrel with the Bush Administration's suspension of fundamental civil liberties as well as expanded government surveillance of private citizens to ostensibly combat terrorism, had to draw the line somewhere. “We are getting to the point we are sacrificing individual liberty for a really false sense of security,” she said. “A purse is a very personal thing.”

Mrs. Kilbane, exactly what planet are you on? The entire nation is on increased alert since the start of war with Iraq. Terrorist retaliatory action on U.S. soil is said to be a near certainty as American troops move on Baghdad and security in public buildings - including the Riffe Center in Columbus - has been significantly tightened in anticipation of rising domestic threats.

In the midst of such international turbulence and national apprehension, Mrs. Kilbane found her voice. Was it rallying support for the troops stinging from a sandstorm in the Iraqi desert? Or, closer to home, was it calling for responsible state leadership to shepherd a shaky Ohio through frightening economic times?

Or was it none of the above?

Yup. Mrs. Kilbane took a stand on the privacy of her purse, damn it. She had the courage of her convictions not to display the contents of her bag to some nosy security guards like any ordinary commoner. The rules that applied to everyone else entering state buildings were not applicable to this principled legislator and her purse.

It's almost funny, in a sad, tragic sort of way.



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