Opinion

Kansas election results reaffirmed, while independent governor candidate waits impatiently

August 24, 2022 3:33 am
State Sen. Dennis Pyle turned in nearly 9,000 signatures from Kansas voters to support his independent campaign for governor on Aug. 1. The paperwork is still being processed. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

State Sen. Dennis Pyle turned in nearly 9,000 signatures from Kansas voters to support his independent campaign for governor on Aug. 1. The paperwork is still being processed. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas elections have been proven accurate once again.

Recounts of the state’s anti-abortion amendment vote, as well as the treasurer’s race, reaffirmed the original results. Yes, the margins changed ever so slightly, as they often do in such cases, but the overall outcomes stood.

That’s a win for Secretary of State Scott Schwab and his office. The person it’s most emphatically not a win for is independent gubernatorial candidate Dennis Pyle, who has been left waiting for his petition signatures to be reviewed.

“I certainly hope we are not seeing the secretary of state applying a double standard,” the state senator said last week, according to Kansas Reflector’s Tim Carpenter. Pyle noted that independent candidate applications in previous election cycles were processed more speedily.

“We have already seen the dubious actions taken by the establishment GOP leadership to remove names from the petition,” he continued. “I hope we are not seeing insider collaboration by the Secretary of State’s Office based upon party loyalty oaths.”

Does that sound a bit like one of the conspiracy theories that the recounts addressed?

Maybe. But Pyle has good reasons for his doubts. Political observers suggest that he stands to siphon votes from GOP standard-bearer Derek Schmidt. A couple of days after the primary election, the state GOP texted voters to delete their names from the roughly 9,000 on the candidate’s petition. Folks in the party appear to see this independent as a legitimate threat.

So isn’t it convenient that his petition is taking so long to process? Wouldn’t it be a shame if someone then filed an objection that had to be addressed? Top Republicans certainly wouldn’t want to see Pyle miss the big gubernatorial debate Sept. 10 at the Kansas State Fair.

Oh, right. They most certainly would. 

Don’t get me wrong. I expect that Schwab and his office, not to mention the State Objections Board, will fulfill their duties in full accordance with the law. But that doesn’t mean they want to be in any hurry about it.

– Clay Wirestone

Don’t get me wrong. I expect that Schwab and his office, not to mention the State Objections Board, will fulfill their duties in full accordance with the law. But that doesn’t mean they want to be in any hurry about it.

Top Republicans in Kansas have gritted their teeth about Laura Kelly and her position in the governor’s office since the day she was sworn in. They have accused her of having no mandate. They have gone to absurd lengths in attempting to deny her power in the executive branch. Schmidt has lately taken to — hilariously — criticizing her rock-solid record on education and efforts to fix the state’s foster care system.

They’ve picked Schmidt, a likable enough man who happens to be very tall, as their best choice to defeat her this fall. And while he’s made all the Trump-appeasing contortions necessary as attorney general, he’s temperamentally moderate.

The last thing his campaign needs is a figure like Pyle, an honorable legislator with rock-ribbed conservative views, to challenge their standard-bearer’s carefully constructed, inoffensive-to-all persona. The last thing they need is an opponent who suggests that you might as well vote for Kelly as Schmidt.

Slow-rolling him might make sense politically. But it’s not good for Kansas.

Schwab has been at pains to defend the integrity of our state’s elections. I’ve written about his debunking of outrageous claims from folks like Douglas Frank, the Mike “My Pillow” Lindell associate who held lawmakers enthralled earlier this year. He’s right to hold the line and right to speak up definitively.

Yet the more that he and other Republicans play coy with Pyle’s candidacy, the less reason he gives Kansans to trust him. Even if Pyle eventually shows up on the November ballot, what harm will be done to his campaign by potentially missing a debate and campaigning time?

To which some Republicans might say he’s a spoiler. To which I respond: So what? If roughly 9,000 Kansans signed his petition, they made their desire clear.

Yes, that applies even if Democrats helped collect them.

As Pyle said while submitting his paperwork, “Politics makes strange bedfellows.”

Former president Donald Trump has shown repeatedly that damage to democracy doesn’t come from falsifying ballots or faking precinct results. Those things don’t happen. Instead, the damage comes from leaders openly and publicly undermining public confidence in the process. In Trump’s case, he psychologically can’t process a loss. In Kansas, the Secretary of State’s Office appears to be looking out for the GOP gubernatorial nominee.

Kansans deserve both accurate counts and fair administration. Pyle — or any other candidate filing as an independent for governor — deserves both timely processing and respect.

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Clay Wirestone
Clay Wirestone

Clay Wirestone has written columns and edited reporting 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, cnn.com and a host of other publications. Most recently, Clay spent nearly 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.

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