Dennis Pyle and running mate Kathleen Garrison deliver signatures Monday at the Secretary of State’s Office for a place on the November ballot as an independent candidate for governor. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Kansas Sen. Dennis Pyle delivered 8,894 signatures Monday to the Secretary of State’s Office, clearing the 5,000 threshold needed to secure a place as an independent candidate for governor on the November ballot.
Pyle’s entry into the race is expected to benefit Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly by siphoning votes from Republican Derek Schmidt. Pyle is a conservative from Hiawatha who described Schmidt and Kelly as “two peas in a pod.”
“Voters really have no choice,” Pyle said. “It’s a liberal and a liberal on the ticket. I will be the conservative in this race once I’m confirmed.”
The Secretary of State’s Office, in conjunction with county election offices, will review Pyle’s paperwork.
Republicans are expected to challenge the validity of Pyle’s signatures, setting up a fight with the State Objections Board. Schmidt and Republican Secretary of State Scott Schwab both get a vote on the three-member board, along with the chief counsel for the governor’s office. Pyle said whether he trusts the board is “irrelevant.”
Pyle said he was confident the signatures he turned in would hold up to scrutiny.
“The assumption is being made that Derek can beat Laura,” Pyle said. “I don’t buy that assumption. All the people that we’ve knocked on doors and talked to them, they’re not happy. The Republican ones are very disenfranchised with their candidate. So I don’t think he wins in a one-on-one race. I think that we come to this and we bring to the table the ability to win this race.”
After launching his campaign on June 7, Pyle said he gathered signatures by going door-to-door and holding lengthy conversations with voters who are concerned about crumbling infrastructure and the size of government.
He was aided in his efforts by Democrats, including state Rep. Vic Miller, who gathered signatures for Pyle at a gun show in Topeka. Others gathered signatures while attending a rally to support abortion rights on Saturday at the Statehouse in Topeka.
“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” Pyle said. “You’re seeing that here. We’re the rich strike in this race. We are the longshot. On June 7, there were a lot of skeptics, that we would not be able to get this petition completed. And so we did, and we’re in the race.”
CJ Grover, campaign manager for Schmidt, described Pyle as “a third-party vanity candidate who has no chance of winning.”
“While Democrats might have gotten their spoiler, Laura Kelly is still going to lose the election because Kansans know a vote for fake conservative Dennis Pyle is a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly,” Grover said. “After all, liberal Democrats collected signatures for Pyle, and Pyle admitted today that his intention is to split the Republican vote to help Kelly. Sad.”
Shannon Pahls, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said Pyle is playing games by “knowingly providing Laura Kelly the only path to a second term.”
“Dennis Pyle doesn’t care about Kansans,” Pahls said. “Dennis Pyle only cares about Dennis Pyle. A vote for him is a vote for four more years of Laura Kelly and liberal Democrat control.”
Pyle said Schmidt has done “just enough to placate the right” as attorney general, a position Schmidt has held 2011. Before that, Schmidt, Pyle and Kelly served together for six years in the state Senate.
In 2018, independent candidate Greg Orman received 6.5% of the votes in the general election. Kelly won with 48% of the votes, compared with Republican Kris Kobach’s 43%.
Kelly, speaking with reporters after voting Friday at the Shawnee County Elections Office, declined to say whether she wanted to see Pyle’s name on the ballot this year.
“I’m just interested in seeing myself on the ballot and winning,” the governor said.
Emma O’Brien, spokeswoman for the Kansas Democratic Party, said Pyle’s ability to collect nearly 9,000 signatures “proves Schmidt’s problems with his own party are just starting.”
“While Schmidt and Pyle are busy fighting with each other, Governor Laura Kelly continues to earn support from Kansans of all political stripes for her steady, bipartisan leadership that is delivering results,” O’Brien said.
Pyle’s running mate is Haysville resident Kathleen Garrison, who serves on the Clearwater school board.
“I’d like to see more like election integrity,” Garrison said. “I’d like the people of Kansas to know that their vote matters. And then we can confirm for them that it matters.”
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