This fight among Democrats is like high school, only worse.

Drama Club 

This fight among Democrats is like high school, only worse.

The cops suspect you for embezzling from a former employer. The case against you looks pretty solid. Which of the following do you do?

A. Make restitution, apologize and hope that the former employer drops the charges.

B. Admit your mistake and beg the court for leniency.

C. Post bail and run.

D. File a pathetic defamation suit against the former employer in the hope of clinging to your dwindling status in the political community.

Michele Lahr chose D.

Lahr is a Democratic strategist who worked for Kansas City mayoral candidate Jim Glover and City Council candidate Beth Gottstein in the election this past spring. And, as far as I know, she was the only campaign consultant who police picked up for questioning at a candidate forum.

Lahr, 39, was arrested in March in connection with her work for Heartland Democrats of America, a Missouri political action committee. The founders of Heartland Democrats, husband-and-wife lawyers Jason and Diana Kander, say Lahr forged a check in an attempt to steal $3,500 from the organization last summer.

I started watching the case after Lahr accused the Kanders and their bank of defamation. Lahr filed a lawsuit claiming that Diana Kander told lies by discussing the forgery allegation with members of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, an organization to which both women belonged. Lahr says Kander ruined her chance of being elected as the group's treasurer.

What, are we in 11th grade?

In a sense, we are.

Lahr, after all, lives in the world of politics, where an inordinate number of people behave like needy teenagers.

Most of us moved on after high school, happy to have survived its trials and ready for the fun and challenges of adulthood. But for too many politicians and the players who help them get elected, the final bell never really rings. For them, life is a never-ending homecoming game, talent show and picture day.

Lahr reacted to the theft accusation like someone who'd been kicked out of the pep club. Last fall, she sent an e-mail to Jill Jolicoeur, a member of the Women's Political Caucus, to address what she called "rumors" concerning her relationship with the Heartland Democrats. Lahr's e-mail, which is on file with the Jackson County Court, says she was cleared of wrongdoing after an investigation by the bank.

In fact, M&I Bank had determined that the $3,500 check was a forgery. The bank filed a report with police on September 28, 2006 — two months before Lahr's e-mail to Jolicoeur. In the note to Jolicoeur, Lahr included the text of an e-mail exchange in which Jason Kander apologized to her for the late delivery of a check. The Kanders say this document is also a forgery.

Jolicoeur, the Kansas vice president of the Women's Political Caucus, suspects that Lahr's tale of a mythic exoneration was an effort to protect her reputation. "It was obvious to me that Michele was trying to do damage control early in the process," she tells me.

Lahr went to work for Heartland Democrats in 2005. Her primary duty was fundraising. The Kanders fired Lahr in April 2006 after becoming "disenchanted" with her abilities, according to court papers the couple filed last month.

The Kanders now say that Lahr wrote several unauthorized checks, including four that were drafted while Jason Kander was on active military duty. (He enlisted in the Army Reserve after 9/11.) The Kanders accuse Lahr of stealing $11,500 before she tried to deposit the $3,500 check, which "Jason Kander" signed while in Florida awaiting deployment to Afghanistan.

The handwriting on the pay line of the $3,500 check looks strikingly like the handwriting on documents that Lahr has filed with the secretary of state's office and the Missouri Ethics Commission. According to Jason Kander's affidavit, the $3,500 check was made out to Michele Lahr, whereas previous checks for her services had been made out to her business, Meridian Strategies. The $3,500 check, dated nearly three months after Lahr's termination, bounced because it had been drawn from an account that Heartland Democrats had stopped using.

Lahr has a record of financial misdealing. She was accused of passing bad checks in 2002 (to UMB Bank) and 2004 (to the U.S. Postal Service); charges were dropped after she made restitution. Lahr and her husband, who live near 43rd Street and Rockhill, declared bankruptcy in 2004. Around the time she tried to cash the $3,500 check, a bank won a $2,809 judgment against her.

So why would a woman who looks as guilty as Lahr stick her head out by filing a defamation suit?

In court papers, the Kanders say Lahr filed the claim against them in an effort to shut them up and hamper the criminal investigation. (The police say they've forwarded their investigation to the Jackson County Prosecuting Attorney's office.)

The facts fit Kanders' theory that Lahr wanted to keep them quiet. After all, she had a position to maintain.

Denied a leadership position in the Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus, Lahr appears to have tried to start a rival club. She is listed as a "founding diva" of a new organization, the Kansas City Progressive Women's Coalition. A Web site indicates that the coalition held a fundraiser at Californo's on June 27. The founders named on the site include former Greater Kansas City Women's Political Caucus board members, though one ex-caucuser on the list, Tamara Morris, says she has nothing to do with the new group.

Lahr also continues to keep a hand in the flow of campaign contributions. She's treasurer of a committee called Missourians for Choice. The committee gave $1,325 to Democratic state Rep. Mike Talboy (a former Lahr business partner) around the time when Talboy's campaign paid Lahr $900. Missourians for Choice has $33,000 in the bank, according to its most recent disclosure.

On July 11, Lahr dropped her defamation suit against the Kanders. It had been a halfhearted endeavor. At one point, the Kanders asked the judge for sanctions on the grounds that Lahr had ignored document requests. The Kanders, in contrast, submitted multiple exhibits in their defense.

Asked for comment, Lahr referred me to her attorney, who hadn't responded as of press time.

Jason Kander is running for a seat in the Missouri House that Jeneé Lowe will vacate in 2008 because of term limits. (Her 44th District represents a southwestern corner of Kansas City.) No matter how ludicrous, Lahr's defamation allegation will turn up when his future opponents start doing background checks on him.

I hope he wants to do some good in Jefferson City and isn't making up for some slight he suffered in high school.

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