Meet the punch-throwing attorney general who led Kansas to open saloons

Vern Miller's pugnacious nature in the early 1970s led to many breakthroughs as Kansas attorney general. Dubbed "Lawman of the State," Miller's ways led to Kansas finally ridding itself of its prohibition past.

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State News

March 19, 2020 - 10:02 AM

Vern Miller was Kansas attorney general, 1971-1975. Photo by Kansasmemory.org/Kansas State Historical Society via cur.org

Kansas’s 36th attorney general was infamous for popping out of trunks, inciting gunfights on buses, and going toe-to-toe with other lawmen and politicians. It was this unabashed, brash approach to law enforcement that earned Vern Miller the nickname “Lawman of the State.”

“He was just kind of a cowboy who did things his way,” says Jim McLean, senior correspondent with KCUR’s Kansas News Service. “The narrative of the state of Kansas where you had these marshalls, sheriffs, of these Wild West communities, that would take matters in hand and clean up the town, right? Well, there’s a certain amount of that to Vern Miller.”

But Vern Miller was not a Wild West sheriff. Miller wielded much of his power between the 1960s and the 70s, a socially and politically tumultuous time in Kansas and across the country.

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