Democrats throw zombies, spooky bats and old video clips at GOP candidates Colyer, Schmidt

Attack designed to undercut both for prior Brownback endorsements

By: - April 28, 2021 3:52 pm
The Democratic Governors Association turned to scare tactics with a video designed to damage gubernatorial campaigns of Derek Schmidt and Jeff Colyer by linking them to former Gov. Sam Brownback. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

The Democratic Governors Association turned to scare tactics with a video designed to damage gubernatorial campaigns of Derek Schmidt and Jeff Colyer by linking them to former Gov. Sam Brownback. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The words of Kansas Republican governor candidates Jeff Colyer and Derek Schmidt reappeared Wednesday as fodder in a campaign attack video featuring zombies, a screaming actress and a flurry of bats to shock voters with the thought of returning to a political era defined by former Gov. Sam Brownback.

The Democratic Governors Association stepped into Kansas politics on behalf of Gov. Laura Kelly with a 30-second “Brownback from the Dead” video anchored by Schmidt and Colyer repeatedly praising Brownback. It followed release of a pair of Kansas GOP videos blasting the work of Kelly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schmidt, the state’s attorney general for the past decade, and Colyer, who took over as governor when Brownback resigned to join the Trump administration in 2018, have launched campaigns for the Republican nomination with the goal of denying Kelly a second term in 2022. Colyer and Schmidt made direct appeals for support at the Kansas Republican Party’s annual convention last week in Manhattan.

The Democratic Governors Association included video of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Colyer praising then-Gov. Sam Brownback when creating a video designed to undermine Colyer. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
The Democratic Governors Association included old video of Republican gubernatorial candidate Jeff Colyer praising then-Gov. Sam Brownback in a new attack ad designed to undermine Colyer’s credibility. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

“Jeff Colyer and Derek Schmidt may say nasty things about each other, but they both had nothing but praise for Sam Brownback as they teamed up to crash the state budget and cut public education,” said Sam Newton, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “That’s a harmful record Colyer and Schmidt won’t be able to run from because Kansas families know they can’t afford to get dragged back to the failed Brownback years.”

In the DGA’s video drawing upon “Night of the Living Dead” for inspiration, there were snippets of Colyer saying “Sam gets things done for Kansas” and “Sam knows how to make those wise, hard decisions.” Colyer also affirmed his partnership as lieutenant governor with Brownback by emphasizing “Sam is the CEO and I’m the COO.”

Schmidt’s contributions included bits of a 2014 campaign appearance on Brownback’s behalf. His two lines: “It’s a pleasure to be here in support of Governor Brownback” and “Brownback has attentively delivered time and again.”

The Democratic Governors Association dipped into the video archive for Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt's endorsement of then-Gov. Sam Brownback in an attempt to damage Schmidt's bid for higher office in 2022. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
The Democratic Governors Association dipped into video archives for GOP gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt’s endorsement of then-Gov. Sam Brownback in a bid to damage Schmidt’s bid for higher office in 2022. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

During the current GOP campaign for governor, Colyer has appeared reluctant to speak at length about criticism of tax policy embraced by Brownback and Colyer. In 2012 and 2013, Brownback signed a massive income tax-cut bill that eroded state revenue to the point the state sales tax had to be raised. Much of the Brownback tax program, or “experiment” as he called it, was repealed in 2017. During a recent campaign news conference, Colyer responded to a tax question by saying, “I’m not talking about past.”

The Kansas Democratic Party has tried to make waves by suggesting Colyer and Schmidt represented a return to Brownback, who suffered under the yoke of low polling numbers before accepting the position as Trump’s ambassador of international religious freedom.

Newton, of the Democratic Governors Association, said both Schmidt and Colyer should be held accountable for helping Brownback “crash the economy and harm public schools.” The Brownback governorship was an “economic failure” framed by a “disastrous tax experiment that devastated the state’s budget,” Newton said.

The state Republican Party and the Kansas House Republican Caucus previously released videos outlining criticism of Kelly’s two years as governor. Premise of the state party’s 30-second piece was that “Kansas is in crisis” and the emergency was evident in Kelly’s handling of unemployment benefits for Kansans who lost jobs during the pandemic. The video concluded the Democratic governor failed to prevent loss of an estimated $700 million in fraudulent jobless claims.

The Kansas Republican Party released a video denouncing work of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in the COVID-19 pandemic. The Kansas GOP focused on the Department of Labor’s handling of unemployment claims. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

“Kansas families are looking for answers,” the ad’s narrator said. “So, what is Laura Kelly doing about it?”

The video featured a news-conference clip of Kelly responding to a question about the Kansas Department of Labor’s struggle to process billions of dollars in unemployment claims. The controversy led to ouster of one labor secretary in 2020 and exposed the agency’s ill-equipped computer system.

The Legislature and Kelly have agreed to overhaul the 40-year-old IT system.

In a 60-second video sponsored by the Kansas House GOP’s political arm, the state’s Democrats were blamed for overseeing a “legacy of fraud” at the labor department. It took a swipe at Kansas Democrats for “governing with incompetence.” That was followed by bouncy orchestral music and the assertion Republicans in Kansas would provide solutions to challenges at the labor department. In the meantime, the House GOP recommended: “Fix this. Now.”

Bob Beatty, a political science professor at Washburn University, maintains a trove of Kansas political commercials and videos at the Topeka university’s Kansas Institute of Politics. The publicly accessible ad collection includes political ads from 1968 to 2021.

He said it was increasingly common for political organizations to place attack ads on social media early in an election cycle because the cost was modest and it was useful in staying engaged with the base and with fundraising or voter registration efforts. It is too expensive to place the 30- and 60-second assaults on commercial television at this point of campaigns, he said.

“Modern political campaigns don’t take time off anymore,” Beatty said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.