MANHATTAN – Attorney General Derek Schmidt prefaced a direct appeal for support in the GOP governor’s race Saturday by tallying the number of lawsuits his office filed against President Joe Biden and denouncing the stream of vetoes issued by Gov. Laura Kelly.
For the record, the Kansas attorney general has joined four suits against the Biden administration and the governor has vetoed eight bills passed by the Republican-led Legislature on subjects as diverse as transgender athletes, income tax breaks, commemorative license plates and concealed firearms for teenagers.
“I’ve started saying the most dangerous weapon in the state of Kansas is an ink pen in the hand of Laura Kelly,” Schmidt said. “We’re good Republicans. We don’t believe in ink-pen control.”
The attorney general has brought Kansas into challenges of Biden administration actions on the Green New Deal, immigration, the Keystone pipeline and the right of states to decide use of $1.9 trillion in stimulus aid. He’s also involved his office in litigation involving outcome of the 2020 presidential election and the Affordable Care Act.
“Only sued them four times so far. So, we’re ramping up,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt and many other candidates took advantage of the Kansas Republican Party’s annual convention to meet and greet potential supporters. The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the party’s loyal servants and elected officials from coming together in 2020. The hotel in Manhattan was a blur of red as the party weighed platform issues and tried to sort out candidacies ahead of the 2022 election cycle.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Colyer, who served as governor for a year after Gov. Sam Brownback’s resignation, spoke with Republicans about the necessity to nominate a conservative to take on Kelly at the ballot box in 567 days.
His rhetorical skills were on display while denouncing Kelly for closing schools and supporting open borders. He criticized the Democratic governor for declaring abortion clinics essential businesses while attempting to limit mass gatherings at churches.
“We have a governor who will attack your faith and our values given to us by our Creator,” Colyer said. “This election is important. This is about saving our country and about saving our state.”
U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, a Republican elected in November to replace retired Sen. Pat Roberts, said the moderate agenda outlined by Biden during a successful campaign against President Donald Trump was abandoned after Biden moved into the White House.
He said Biden felt unrestrained to tamper with abortion and gun rights and the freedoms of speech and religion.
“They want to pack the Supreme Court,” Marshall said. “They want to make D.C. a state. They want a power grab and rig the elections. They want to defund the police. They want open borders. They want to take our jobs, raise our taxes. It’s not even a socialist agenda anymore. This is a communist manifesto.”
Marshall said three foundational objectives of the Kansas GOP in 2022 ought to be passage of a constitutional amendment declaring no inherent right to abortion in Kansas, the re-election defeat of Kelly and the ouster of Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids from the 3rd District.
“Everything else is just noise,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, who took out incumbent GOP Congressman Steve Watkins to earn the 2nd District seat in the U.S. House, said the combination of Biden in the White House and Democratic control of the House and Senate left Republicans working in the District of Columbia to struggle under dire circumstances.
“Washington, D.C., is a mess right now,” he said. “In 18 months, we’re going to rip the speaker’s gavel out of Nancy Pelosi’s hand.”
U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, the Republican 4th District representative, said the Democratic takeover was accompanied by a couple months of “hatefulness” that has somewhat subsided.
He expressed optimism Republicans would retake the House in 2022 after redrawing of congressional district maps and with Democrats taking the historically inevitable mid-term election hit. In the meantime, he said, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a conservative Democrat from West Virginia, was the GOP’s backstop in the divided Senate.
“The most powerful person in Washington, D.C., is a man named Joe. And it’s Manchin, not Biden,” Estes said.
State Rep. Susan Estes, the congressman’s wife, told Republicans at the convention to rally in support of the Value Them Both amendment to the Kansas Constitution. She said passage of the amendment would reverse a Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring women had a right to abortion in Kansas.
The Wichita Republican also urged people to place a pro-amendment bumper sticker on their vehicles ahead of the statewide vote in August 2022.
“If you’re tired of the media drowning out your voice, put it on the rear end of your car,” Susan Estes said.
No pandemic fear
Scott Schwab, the Kansas secretary of state and top elections officer, said other states that struggled with election administration during the pandemic in 2020 were intrigued by Kansas’ operational framework. Despite the 2021 Legislature’s passage of two election reform bills, Schwab said last year’s election in Kansas went smoothly. Kelly vetoed both election bills because she said Kansans cast millions of ballots over the last decade without significant evidence of voter fraud.
Schwab said COVID-19 and personal preference prompted 33% of Kansas to vote by advance mail in November but 27% submitted advance ballots in person and 40% voted in-person.
“Sixty-seven percent of Kansans want to cast their ballot themselves in-person at the polling place,” Schwab said. “That’s because poll workers kept that open for you. They weren’t afraid of the word ‘pandemic.’”
He also said he rejected a request from Kelly to send mail ballots to every Kansan due to the influx of COVID-19, which has left nearly 5,000 Kansans dead.
Schwab shared dismay at legislation passed by the U.S. House but not the U.S. Senate overhauling administration of elections nationwide. For example, he said, the measure would mandate in-person advance voting 15 days prior to elections with voting stations open 10 hours a day.
That could be accomplished in some of the state’s more populated counties, he said, but not the sparsely populated counties if there wasn’t federal funding to implement the mandate.
“Chautauqua County cannot afford to staff and pay rent for a polling place that no one’s going to go to,” Schwab said.
Vicki Schmidt, the Republican state insurance commissioner, said the department’s consumer division returned $15 million to Kansans since she took office in 2019. The department also will be cutting fee revenue by $5 million annually, she said.
“I hope to see each and every one of you out on the campaign trail,” she said.
State Rep. Blaine Finch of Ottawa and state Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker also spoke to convention participants from the 2nd District of eastern Kansas. There has been speculation Finch would run for attorney general and Tyson for state treasurer. In his remarks, Finch made a reference to Tyson possibly seeking higher office. Tyson said she’d made no decision, and Finch hadn’t made a campaign announcement.
“We’ve got to get her to run for something bigger, don’t we,” Finch said.
State Rep. Doug Blex, R-Independence, told convention attendees he was perplexed by Kelly’s veto of a bill requiring transgender women to participate in high school or college sports according to gender assignment at birth. He said it would be wrong for a transgender girl or woman to cheat anyone out of an athletic scholarship.
“I’m a wildlife biologist by trade. I understand what an X and Y chromosome is,” Blex said. “I never thought I’d live long enough to see the things we’re seeing in the world.”
In a veto message, the governor said the bill sent a hostile message to Kansas children and families, including transgender individuals at higher risk of suicide, discrimination and bullying. She said Kansas lawmakers ought to focus on including all students in extracurricular activities rather than “exclude those who may be different from us.”
Blex, who took office in 2017, said he was impressed by a group of “ultra-conservative” Republican women recently elected to the Kansas House. He said they had a meaningful influence on voting by male representatives in the House.
“My first term up here we had a bunch of weak ladies that could not vote the way they needed to vote. Now that’s gone. We’ve got some strong ladies,” he said.
The presence of RINOS, or Republicans In Name Only, troubled state Rep. Trevor Jacobs, of Fort Scott. RINOS is a term applied to officials elected as members of the Republican Party, but who choose to govern like Democrats. Jacobs said these interlopers did the GOP a disservice by defying the Kansas Republican Party’s platform.
“We don’t need the Democratic Party sneaking into our party pretending and using our language and then voting against us,” Jacobs said. “We have to put a line in the sand and say, ‘This is our ship. We have to overthrow the pirates that are trying to commandeer it.’ They’ve already taken the Democratic Party. They’re not taking my party. Amen.”