Pyle pushes ahead with hunt for 5K signatures to join November ballot in Kansas governor’s race

Democrats offer help, while Republicans irritated by Pyle’s political direction

By: - July 22, 2022 5:14 pm
Hiawatha Sen. Dennis Pyle is working to secure 5,000 petition signatures to qualify as an independent candidate for governor on the November ballot. He's received petition help from a Democratic state representative, much to the irritation of the Kansas Republican Party. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Hiawatha Sen. Dennis Pyle is working to secure 5,000 petition signatures to qualify as an independent candidate for governor on the November ballot. He’s received petition help from a Democratic state representative, much to the irritation of the Kansas Republican Party. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Independent governor candidate Dennis Pyle attended a Topeka gun show in a quest to gather some of the 5,000 petition signatures necessary to secure a spot on the November general election ballot.

The idea was to mine the assemblage of Second Amendment advocates for people open to Pyle’s decision to step away from the Republican Party to offer Kansas voters an alternative to presumptive GOP gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt. Pyle, a state senator from Hiawatha since 2005, would join Schmidt, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Libertarian Party nominee Seth Cordell on statewide ballots.

Pyle has until noon Aug. 1 — one day before the primary election — to accumulate sufficient signatures to qualify. His movements on the GOP’s right flank have drawn interest from Republicans and Democrats intrigued by the idea of Pyle being a wildcard in the three-month race to a finish Nov. 8.

His presence mirrors a belief among some Republicans that Schmidt didn’t possess sufficiently staunch conservative views they wanted in a governor candidate.

“We’re working hard and diligently on the petition drive and everyone will find out the results on August 1,” Pyle said.

Pyle wasn’t the only person looking for petition signatures at the July gun show. State Rep. Vic Miller, a Topeka Democrat, also worked the crowd for signatures that could be added to Pyle’s pile. Miller wouldn’t say how many he netted, but promised to turn over his signature sheets to the Pyle campaign.

“It was more than a one-person job given the traffic. It went well,” Miller said. “There were a lot of people who didn’t care for Derek Schmidt, because he’s pretty much a waffler. As opposed to Pyle, who is a man of principle. I like Dennis.”

The political sideshow at the firearm gathering brought together an unusual pairing, given Pyle’s persistently conservative approach in the Legislature and Miller’s dedication to Democratic politics in the Capitol. After Kelly was sworn into office as governor in 2019, Miller surrendered his House seat after selected by peers to complete the unexpired portion of Kelly’s Senate term. He later chose to return to House in 2021.

Larry Mzhickteno, who was a neighbor of Miller for more than a dozen years, said he was surprised to see Miller at the gun show. He said Miller was wearing a National Rifle Association hat and held a signature sheet with about 15 names on it. The goal of Miller and other Democrats was obvious, he said.

“I think they’re trying to divide the number of votes Schmidt can get,” Mzhickteno said. “He was being awfully sneaky about it.”

In a June announcement, Pyle said he was interested in entering the governor’s race to give voters of Kansas a diverse choice.  He said he was a “God-loving American, devoted to the Constitution and protecting our children.”

Pyle’s appeal to voters could be important, especially if the Kelly and Schmidt race came down to the wire. In 2010, Pyle landed more than 31,000 votes in a Republican primary loss to U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who served Kansas’ 2nd District in Congress for a decade.

C.J. Grover, Schmidt’s campaign manager, said Kelly’s inability to defend her record as governor led her allies “under false pretenses to trick voters into adding a candidate to the ballot in hopes of splitting the vote enough to deliver her a win despite a majority of Kansans wanting a different governor.”

Shannon Pahls, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said acceptance by Pyle of petition signatures gathered by Miller or other Democrats would raise questions about Pyle’s adherence to conservative principles. She previously said a vote for Pyle in the 2022 election should be considered a vote for Kelly.

“If Dennis Pyle has any integrity, he will reject all petition signatures gathered on his behalf by liberal Democrats helping Laura Kelly. The Kansas GOP calls on him to both reject them and make a public commitment that he will do so,” Pahls said.

Kansas Democratic Party spokesperson Emma O’Brien responded to Pyle’s announcement of interest in the governor’s race by suggesting his candidacy reflected Schmidt’s internal partisan problems and Kelly’s bipartisan work as a unifying leader.

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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.