GOP 2nd District Republican Jake LaTurner again fails to substantiate claim Democratic candidate Michelle De La Isla “defunded” Topeka Police Department while serving on the city council and as mayor. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Democratic congressional candidate Michelle De La Isla vilified Republican opponent Jake LaTurner as a liar Tuesday for perpetuating the false claim in campaign commercials and during debates that she supported reductions in spending on law enforcement as mayor of Topeka.
De La Isla said the city since 2017 increased by $5 million funding to the Topeka Police Department, but LaTurner’s “extremely irresponsible” message was fostering concern among some Topeka residents that their safety was being compromised. She urged LaTurner and his allies to pull ads asserting the city police department’s budget had been undermined.
“If you don’t,” she said, “you have to admit you are the very swamp that we are trying to get away from. Integrity matters in elections.”
Kara Zeyer, a spokeswoman for LaTurner, said in response there was nothing wrong with the LaTurner commercial castigated by Del La Isla.
The 30-second ad spliced together statements from De La Isla made during an August news conference in which she commented on Black Lives Matter, controversy about police tactics and suggestions for altering to budgets of law enforcement agencies. The ad ignored the Topeka mayor’s statement during the news conference that Topeka hadn’t adopted nor would she permit cuts to the police budget.
Zeyer said LaTurner had replaced that commercial with a spot that similarly alleged De La Isla supported defunding law enforcement.
LaTurner, who was appointed Kansas state treasurer in 2017 by then-Gov. Sam Brownback, is competing against De La Isla for the U.S. House seat to be vacated by Congressman Steve Watkins. Watkins was narrowly elected in 2018 in the eastern Kansas campaign against Democrat Paul Davis. The congressman lost the GOP primary in August to LaTurner.
Watkins was hampered in his re-election bid by allegations of voter fraud first reported by The Topeka Capital-Journal that were based on Watkins’ use of a false residential address to secure an advance ballot and to vote in an election. The congressman was also charged by Shawnee County prosecutors with lying to investigators.
De La Isla said LaTurner had referred to her during the campaign as a socialist despite no evidence from her time as a city council member or as the city’s mayor that she advocated that model of government. She complained LaTurner described her as a “puppet” of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, when “I haven’t even met the lady.”
“Jake LaTurner has been lying about me for months,” De La Isla said. “That’s what candidates do when they have absolutely nothing to say about their opponent. Basically, he knows he has crossed the line.”
De La Isla said she initially chose to shrug off baseless assertions by LaTurner, but decided after several months of campaigning to respond more in the final weeks of a race ending Nov. 3. In part, she said, her change of attitude reflected her experience as a victim of domestic violence.
“The police and sheriff always had my back and I will always have theirs,” De La Isla said. “Jake, politics is not theater. This district and this nation have a whole bunch of issues we need to deal with. The way we deal with those things is not by lying.”
She said too many women were being raised to believe men should be allowed to intimidate, bully or physically harm them.
“Way too often girls are being brought up being told, ‘Hey, if the boy hits you, he likes you. It’s okay.’ But it’s not. It absolutely is not. I would be damned if I let my daughters watch somebody lie about me and me sit down and take it,” De La Isla said.
On Tuesday, the LaTurner campaign doubled down on the disputed law enforcement attack on De La Isla by noting she participated in a peaceful Topeka march with supporters of Black Lives Matter that also was attended by Topeka Police Chief Bill Cochran.
Laturner’s campaign echoed a new campaign commercial questioning the mayor’s expenditure of $3,300 in tax dollars during 2019 on travel to Los Angeles, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.
“While Mayor De La Isla said that she supports the defund-the-police movement and has been working on doing it in Topeka for the past two years, she has never lifted a finger to defund her taxpayer financed travel budget.”
In addition, LaTurner’s campaign criticized the Topeka City Council’s vote in 2013 to raise the franchise fee assessed on Westar Energy, which is now known as Evergy. De La Isla was part of the council’s 7-2 majority that approved the fee change, which was estimated to result in an increase of 15 cents per month on Westar customers.
Stephanie Houghton, spokeswoman for the De La Isla campaign, didn’t address the latest LaTurner ad, but she said the GOP candidate’s “lies and distractions” were part of an effort to “draw attention away from his record of helping Governor Brownback make health care unaffordable for Kansans.”
“We know that the people of Kansas will not be fooled by his irresponsible and misleading comments,” she said.
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