This Kansas groundhog took on Derek Schmidt. That’s too much to ask of one buck-toothed rodent.

February 9, 2022 2:30 pm
A groundhog holds a sign likening Attorney General Derek Schmidt to former Gov. Sam Brownback in front of Schmidt's office on Feb. 3. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

A groundhog holds a sign likening Attorney General Derek Schmidt to former Gov. Sam Brownback in front of Schmidt’s office on Feb. 3. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

Pity the poor groundhog.

On Thursday, one day after his appointed holiday, the groundhog stood in front of Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s office. He braved freezing weather while holding a sign adorned with the faces of current gubernatorial candidate Schmidt and former Gov. Sam Brownback.

The sign bore a question: “Will there be four more years of Brownback?”

Much hangs in the balance this November. The election will decide whether Schmidt or current Gov. Laura Kelly runs the state’s powerful executive branch. The governor has a major role in overseeing the Medicaid program (and advocating for Medicaid expansion if he or she chooses), guiding our notoriously troubled foster care system and administering an array of support programs such as food stamps and cash assistance.

That’s just the beginning. The governor also has a major role in preventing the Kansas Legislature from indulging in its more fevered bouts of conspiracy mongering. Kelly vetoed a ludicrously gerrymandered congressional map, bloated tax giveaways to the wealthy and legislation targeting transgender kids.

That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of one buck-toothed rodent, especially on a cold day.

The Kansas Democratic Party’s name was on the sign, and a couple of staffers were in attendance, bundled in coats and keeping an eye on the groundhog. They also had hand warmers to give away, adorned with a “Schmidt that stole Christmas” slogan.

Emma O’Brien, spokeswoman for the Kansas Democratic Party, says “Derek Schmidt is stuck in Sam Brownback’s shadow.” (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“Throughout his career, Derek Schmidt has stood behind Sam Brownback while their policies tanked Kansas’ economy and underfunded public schools, mismanaged the budget, and stole from the Kansas highway fund,” said Emma O’Brien, spokeswoman for the state party.

She was one of the staffers there with the groundhog.

“Now, he’s asking Kansans for a promotion,” O’Brien said. “Derek Schmidt is stuck in Sam Brownback’s shadow, and under his leadership, Kansans can expect the same fiscal irresponsibility that landed Kansas in the national spotlight for budget disasters, and that we’ve worked so hard to overcome.”

The Schmidt campaign said it generally didn’t comment on rodents.

Fair enough for both sides. I don’t really grasp the groundhog concept, though. I’m also confused by the party’s new website depicting Brownback and Schmidt as Emmett “Doc” Brown and Marty McFly from the “Back to the Future” film series.

People like Doc Brown and Marty McFly. They like “Back to the Future” (perhaps the sequels not so much). Casting Brownback and Schmidt in those parts makes them sympathetic. People like groundhogs, too, and “Groundhog Day” the movie. Does anyone see the groundhog as a particularly guilt-inducing animal?

At best, this lighthearted imagery distracts from the big issues at stake. At worst, it suggests Democrats don’t take the race seriously — and maybe voters shouldn’t, either.

Settle down, everyone. Let the groundhog come in from the cold. Focus on a race with vast implications for the state.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone serves as Kansas Reflector's opinion editor. His columns have been published in the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, along with newspapers and websites across the state and nation. He has written and edited for newsrooms in Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida and Pennsylvania. He has also fact checked politicians, researched for Larry the Cable Guy, and appeared in PolitiFact, Mental Floss, and cnn.com. Before joining the Reflector in summer 2021, Clay spent four years at the nonprofit Kansas Action for Children as communications director. Beyond the written word, he has drawn cartoons, hosted podcasts, designed graphics and moderated debates. Clay graduated from the University of Kansas and lives in Lawrence with his husband and son.