Kansas GOP governor candidate Derek Schmidt selects U.S. Senate staffer as running mate

Collection of state legislators bypassed by Kansas attorney general

By: , and - June 1, 2022 9:30 am
Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt recommended the Legislature adopt an exemption from the state's 6.5% sales tax for purchases of diapers and feminine hygiene products. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt recommended the Legislature adopt an exemption from the state’s 6.5% sales tax for purchases of diapers and feminine hygiene products. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt waited until the filing deadline Wednesday to announce his selection of a U.S. Senate aide as his running mate in the 2022 campaign.

Schmidt, the state’s attorney general, was under pressure from Kansas GOP hardliners to select a distinctly conservative campaign partner with a track record along the lines of Sens. Molly Baumgardner, Mike Thompson and Renee Erickson or Reps. Kristey Williams and Ron Ryckman.

In the end, Schmidt chose Katie Sawyer, a senior staffer for GOP U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. Schmidt, in response to a question after filing, said the 2022 campaign for governor wasn’t about the GOP nominee’s linkage to former Gov. Sam Brownback.

“Elections are about the future, not about the past,” Schmidt said. “I understand that we’ve got some opponents on the other side who want to relitigate their glory days and talk about things that are long since history in Kansas. We’re going forward. I’m confident of one thing. We can do better than Kansas has done the last four years.”

After Schmidt’s announcement, the campaign of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly sent out a fundraising message that asserted Schmidt was keen to return to the “days of broken budgets and underfunded schools” under Brownback.

“This team is making measurable differences in the lives of families across the state,” Kelly’s message said, “but right out of the gate, Derek Schmidt’s new running mate called all of our work a ‘continual disappointment.’ It’s all because Laura is moving us forward instead of racing backward to the Brownback era.”

Sawyer, 38, of McPherson, has worked for Marshall for the past six years and owns a farm with her husband in McPherson County. She served as director of career services at McPherson College from 2014 to 2016 and has a background in marketing and journalism.

Schmidt and Sawyer joined forces to prepare for the contest against Kelly, who is seeking a second term in the November general election.

“I’m honored to answer this call to service and humbled that Derek has placed his confidence in me to help him get Kansas on track after years of continual disappointment from the Kelly administration,” Sawyer said. “Derek Schmidt and I will be a governor and lieutenant governor who fight every day for families like yours and mine to make Kansas the best state in America to live, work, raise a family and grow a business.”

Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is seeking the Republican Party's nomination for governor. (Lily O'Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)
Katie Sawyer, left, who works for U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, signed documents Wednesday to be the running mate of Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is seeking the Republican Party’s nomination for governor. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Schmidt said Sawyer “brings a new generation of young and energetic leadership to help us move Kansas forward to a bright and better tomorrow.”

Sawyer graduated in 2006 from Pittsburg State University, where she studied communication and international studies, and earned a master’s degree in strategic communication from Purdue University in 2017.

“She has her finger on the pulse of Kansas, and she knows exactly what they’re talking about at their kitchen tables,” Marshall said.

But Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, argued Sawyer’s work with Marshall was enough for her to know she would not serve the state’s best interests.

“He is an embarrassment to our state, so she must be OK with that embarrassment in his form of politics,” Ruiz said. “That’s all I need to know that she is in line. She’s not stood out to say that her thoughts are any different than theirs.”

Kelly, who is seeking election to a second term in November, is campaigning with Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. Kelly’s running mate in 2018 was Lynn Rogers, whom the governor appointed state treasurer in December 2019. Kelly filed for reelection two weeks ago.

There was a time when Schmidt’s path to the Republican nomination would have required he defeat former Gov. Jeff Colyer or former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Colyer withdrew from the race for health reasons and Pompeo passed on a campaign for governor.

Schmidt, 54, served in the Kansas Senate from 2001 to 2011, representing a district that included Independence in southeast Kansas. He was elected attorney general in 2010 and reelected twice.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said choosing Sawyer was meant to deflect scrutiny on his policies.

“The last thing that I believe he would want was another shiny object on the ticket with him that would call into question his ability to govern in a thoughtful manner,” Holland said. “So, I think he has gone for a choice that is totally under the radar.”

In January, former President Donald Trump endorsed Schmidt’s candidacy for governor, declaring Schmidt would be a “popular and very wise choice.” In the 2020 election, Trump carried Kansas with 56.2% of the vote against Democrat Joe Biden’s 41.5%.

The deadline for statewide candidates in Kansas to file for office was noon Wednesday, while the deadline for candidates for the Legislature, Congress and the Kansas Board of Education was set for June 10 due to court review of redistricting maps. The deadline for voter registration for the Aug. 2 primary is July 12.

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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.

Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the 2021 and 2022 Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He is a lifelong Kansan.

Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.