Dennis Pyle mocks Kansas State Fair ‘unibate’ between Republican and Democratic candidates
Dennis Pyle, an independent candidate for governor, refused to give up his front-row seat to the Kansas State Fair debate, despite objections by Republicans. Pyle wasn’t allowed to participate in the debate. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
HUTCHINSON — Dennis Pyle took a front row seat to the Kansas State Fair debate between gubernatorial candidates — over objections from supporters of Republican nominee Derek Schmidt.
Pyle, who is running for governor as an independent, wasn’t allowed to participate in the debate, even though his name will appear on the ballot in November. The conservative state senator threatens to siphon votes away from Schmidt, to the benefit of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s reelection campaign.
If Pyle were given a voice in the raucous “unibate,” as he dubbed it, he would have emphasized how close Schmidt and Kelly are to each other on the political scale.
“I’d be pointing out the voting records, and showing how they’re wrong,” Pyle said. “They both supported tax increases. They’re both pro-abortion.”
Kelly supports access to reproductive health care, and Schmidt describes himself as pro-life. But Pyle says Schmidt, as a state senator, had a poor rating from the prominent anti-abortion lobbying group Kansans for Life. KFL now endorsers Schmidt.
Pyle said Schmidt, who served as Senate majority leader when former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was in office, literally played ball with the Democrats during those year. That is, he was on a baseball team with Sebelius and Kelly.
“I mean, if Kelly was calling for a curveball, he’d throw a curveball,” Pyle said.
Even worse, from Pyle’s point of view: Schmidt helped Sebelius pass her budgets despite having a supermajority of Republicans in the Senate.
Pyle said he chose to gather signatures and run as an independent because the “left wing” of the Republican Party won’t support a true conservative.
“My goal is to unite conservatives and get them to coalesce, no matter where they’re at, whether they’re in either party or an independent,” Pyle said. “If we bring together a coalition of people that are conservative, we’re going to win this election.”
Pyle refused to give up his front-row seat, despite pleadings from former state Rep. Tom Arpke and other Republicans.
Meanwhile, the spirited crowd hurled insults at Schmidt and Kelly onstage, including a livestock-inspired profanity, and alternated between chants of “four more years” and “no more years,” and “Schmidt’s unfit” and “lockdown Laura.”
State Rep. Patrick Penn, a Wichita Republican, marched through the crowd with his children, loudly accusing Kelly of refusing to meet with Black people.
Jan and Laura Harding, a mother-daughter duo from Hutchinson, helped cheer on Schmidt. Jan Harding said she was concerned about people moving out of the state and high taxes. Laura Harding, a high school student, said she was concerned about the future.
“I want to hear how they’re not just going to shape the now but shape our future, and the things that they’re going to do that will help my future generations, like my kids,” Laura Harding said.
Janet Vega, a Topeka resident and colon cancer survivor, joined the cheers for Kelly. Vega said she didn’t have health insurance and was still paying off medical bills from 2006.
Every Kansan, Vega said, should have access to “the best care.” She noted Kelly’s support for Medicaid expansion, which would provide health insurance to an estimated 135,000 low-income Kansans.
“I think we need more help. It’s not right,” Vega said. “It should be more open to everybody.”
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