TOPEKA — Republican congressional candidate Jake LaTurner’s campaign put a commercial into wide circulation that contains murky video of Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla participating in a street protest with the voiceover falsely telling potential voters she worked to defund the capital city’s police department.
De Le Isla, the Democratic candidate in the 2nd District and the Topeka mayor since 2018, did take part in a peaceful march with Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran and supporters of Black Lives Matter following the May 25 death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
She did take to the streets carrying a cardboard sign decorated with a single word: JUSTICE. While pausing in downtown Topeka, she did kneel with the police chief and others.
Topeka has not, despite claims underlying LaTurner’s campaign commercial, defunded the police department at the behest of De La Isla or anyone else. In fact, the Topeka City Council with backing from De La Isla as a council member and mayor elevated the department’s budget since 2017 by $5 million to surpass the $40 million mark.
Political distortions contained in LaTurner’s commercial are accentuated by selective editing of remarks by De La Isla during an August 18 news conference in which she pleaded with the public to avoid toxic rhetoric and asked the diverse community to work together to rebuild trust, said Stephanie Houghton, campaign manager for De La Isla.
“False attack ads like this are exactly what people hate about Washington-style politics,” Houghton said. “Kansans are looking for someone who will focus on work across the aisle to bridge the partisan divide and get to work on our toughest challenges.”
LaTurner’s no comment
The LaTurner campaign declined to comment Monday on the commercial released this month into four media markets serving the 25-county district extending from Nebraska to Oklahoma. In August, LaTurner campaign spokeswoman Kara Zeyer told the Kansas Reflector that De La Isla had marched in support of the controversial movement to “defund the police.”
The attack ad from LaTurner, who is the Kansas state treasurer, opened with a statement by LaTurner that he officially approved the message. The voiceover then claimed De La Isla “doesn’t just talk about defunding the police, she does it.”
LaTurner’s commercial described De La Isla as a “radical” and showed her walking in a crowded street with protesters. The ad pivoted to a one of De La Isla’s news conferences in Topeka in which she spoke about the harm of racial discrimination and erosion of public trust as well as her appreciation for law enforcement’s effort to keep people safe.
The part of the ad drawing upon the words of De La Isla but spliced together to make a misleading connection between Topeka and police budget cuts, says: “Defunding the police … what it means is what the city of Topeka has already been doing.”
Condensing of her remarks and the splicing of video became more evident after repeated watching of the commercial. De La Isla’s campaign provided audio and video of the 24-minute news conference, which was attended by Topeka’s police chief and city manager.
At this gathering with reporters, her campaign said, the mayor never indicated she endorsed a plan to defund Topeka law enforcement. Her remarks about what Topeka had been doing was related to the city’s participation since June 2018 in a U.S. Department of Justice program called Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships. It engages local law enforcement professionals and community leaders in dialogue to identify issues and solve problems collectively.
De La Isla also referenced at the news conference a July article in the Topeka Capital-Journal that fueled confusion about whether the city might limit funding to the police.
“It’s often way too easy to choose a side,” De La Isla told reporters. “I ask all of you not to feed into the division and please do not continue sharing misinformation. We do this by coming together. There is no one saying we will shut down our police department.”
Davids’ attack on Adkins
The Kansas Republican Party remains disturbed by a commercial authorized by U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat in the 3rd District, that made use of an ad released by GOP congressional nominee Amanda Adkins. It makes the point that Adkins spent years as advisor, campaign manager and appointee to Sam Brownback while he served in the U.S. Senate and as Kansas governor.
Shannon Golden, executive director of the Kansas GOP, said Davids declined to debate Adkins and preferred to hide behind misleading television ads. Golden also linked Davids to California U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the U.S. House.
“Sharice Davids and Nancy Pelosi know they can’t beat Amanda Adkins on her own merits, so they’ve resorted to distorting her words and trying to make this campaign about past politicians no longer on the ballot,” Golden said.
The 30-second ad from the Davids campaign opened with tape from the commercial put out by Adkins. In that spot, Adkins introduced herself as a wife, businesswoman and conservative.
Then, Davids’ voiceover interrupts.
“Stop there,” the voiceover said. “Amanda Adkins forgot one thing. Her 20 years as top adviser to Sam Brownback. In Washington and Topeka, helping pass tax cuts for corporations, paid for with cuts to Kansas schools and the childrens’ trust fund.”
The commercial flips back to Adkin’s ad, but her comment was reduced to the fragment “our children deserve better.” The problem was that Adkins, when referencing children, wasn’t referring to Brownback. The core of Adkins’ ad portrayed Washington politics as a disaster and border security as a disgrace. It accused Democrats, journalists and the COVID-19 pandemic, in that order, of destroying the economy. In relation to those non-Brownback points, Adkins did say Kansas children deserved better political representation.
“Adkins is right,” the voiceover concluded. “Better than her and Brownback.”
The Davids campaign ran the Adkins-Brownback commercial until the beginning of October.
“Amanda Adkins can try to downplay her decades-long career as a top advisor to Sam Brownback all she wants, but unfortunately for her their disastrous record of gutting funding for public schools and decimating the state’s budget speaks for itself,” said Johanna Warshaw, a campaign spokeswoman for Davids.