Kansas’ independent governor candidate conveys frustration with ballot petition review process

GOP-oriented pollster says Pyle lags behind GOP’s Schmidt, Democrat Kelly

By: - August 17, 2022 2:29 pm
Hiawatha state Sen. Dennis Pyle, who submitted 8,900 petition signatures Aug. 1 in an attempt to be on Kansas ballots in November as an independent candidate for governor, said Wednesday he was frustrated by pace of the secretary of state's ongoing review of his petition signatures. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Hiawatha state Sen. Dennis Pyle, who submitted 8,900 petition signatures Aug. 1 in an attempt to be on Kansas ballots in November as an independent candidate for governor, said Wednesday he was frustrated by pace of the secretary of state’s ongoing review of his petition signatures. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — State Sen. Dennis Pyle expressed frustration Wednesday with pace of the review by county and state election officials of thousands of signatures submitted with his petition to be included on the November ballot as an independent candidate for governor.

Pyle, a conservative legislator and farmer from Hiawatha, stepped away from the Republican Party to launch his darkhorse candidacy as an alternative to Democrat Laura Kelly, Republican Derek Schmidt and Libertarian Seth Cordell.

He said the secretary of state’s office certified the 2018 petition of independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman within 11 days of receiving Orman’s stack of signatures from people who said they were registered voters in Kansas. Pyle submitted his petition documentation Aug. 1, but was informed Tuesday by the secretary of state’s office that Kansas law didn’t require completion of the process in alignment with Orman’s experience.

“I certainly hope we are not seeing the secretary of state applying a double standard,” Pyle said. “We have already seen the dubious actions taken by the establishment GOP leadership to remove names from the petition. I hope we are not seeing insider collaboration by the secretary of state’s office based upon party loyalty oaths.”

 

Fake conservative?

In early August, the Kansas Republican Party instructed voters by text message how they could remove their name from Pyle’s petition. The Kansas GOP’s argument was Pyle would draw enough GOP votes from Attorney General Schmidt to enable Gov. Kelly to prevail in the November election.

In addition, the Kansas GOP reminded party officials of a loyalty oath mandating they exclusively support Republican candidates.

Pyle, who contends Schmidt has proven insufficiently conservative, submitted 8,900 signatures. He would need 5,000 verified signatures of registered voters to get on the statewide ballot. Democratic Party activists helped gather signatures for Pyle, who has a far-right pedigree in the Kansas Legislature.

A spokesperson for Schmidt’s campaign has referred to Pyle as a “fake conservative” and a “vanity candidate.”

Bryan Caskey, director of elections for Secretary of State Scott Schwab, sent an email to Pyle saying his petition was still under review. Pages containing signatures of Kansans were submitted to county election officers for the purpose of confirming whether the signers were registered voters, he said.

“Kansas law does not require an independent petition be verified by today,” Caskey said.

In Orman’s case, he presented his stack of petition signatures Aug. 6, 2018. The secretary of state declared his petition sufficient Aug. 17. An official objection was filed Aug. 20. The State Objections Board overruled that objection Aug. 23 to affirm Orman’s spot on the ballot.

Pyle said he was irritated his petition was hung up despite submitting his 2022 list of names five days before Orman did in 2018.

“It is very clear they are not following the same application of law,” Pyle said.

A lengthy examination by state and county officials or filing of a separate challenge against Pyle’s petition could delay an official determination to a point that he might not be eligible for the gubernatorial debate Sept. 10 at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson. Orman completed the process to take part in the 2018 debate with Kelly and GOP nominee Kris Kobach.

 

GOP-oriented pollster

Meanwhile, a poll of the Kansas governor’s race by the Georgia firm Battleground Connect indicated Schmidt would receive 47.9% to Kelly’s 45.4% and Pyle’s 2.1% if the vote were conducted during the Aug. 8-10 polling period. The GOP-oriented pollster said the snapshot of opinion among 1,074 likely general election voters in Kansas had a 3% margin of error. In addition, the survey pegged the portion of undecided at 4.6%.

The polling firm’s clients include the Kansas Republican Party, Kansas Club for Growth, Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Kansans for Life, Kansas Rifle Association, the Republican National Committee as well as U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall, U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, U.S. Rep. Ron Estes and Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman, all Republicans. In addition, the firm has had a relationship with former U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder, also Republicans.

The election survey was sponsored by the nonprofit political organization John Brown Freedom Fund created by Pat Leopold, who worked  with Jenkins in Washington, D.C., until she left Congress in 2019. Jenkins and Leopold also formed LJ Strategies, a political consulting firm.

“For those hoping that Dennis Pyle could prove useful to Governor Kelly’s campaign, the answer appears to be an emphatic no,” said Leopold, spokesman for the Brown Freedom Fund. “Not only is Kelly well below 50%, the danger zone for any incumbent, but in spite of spending millions more than Derek Schmidt, she is already losing.”

In an interview, Pyle said details of the survey would have to be examined to determine whether it was laden with political bias.

“Lynn Jenkins and Derek Schmidt — obvious hit on Pyle,” said Pyle, who ran unsuccessfully against Jenkins in the 2010 Republican primary for U.S. House. “He’s scared of me, and he should be.”

The survey commissioned by Leopold showed 53.3% of prospective Kansas voters had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of Kelly. The same question in terms of Schmidt revealed 49.3% had a very or somewhat favorable opinion of him.

In addition, the survey suggested President Joe Biden, who lost Kansas to former President Donald Trump in 2020, was viewed as somewhat or very unfavorably by 56.2% of Kansas questioned.

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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.

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