Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly of Topeka and Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt of Lawrence enter the two-week push ahead of the Nov. 8 election for Kansas governor. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly committed to building a comprehensive early childhood education system in Kansas during a second term as governor that makes child care more affordable, expands preschool and invests in literacy programs.
She said reform would be streamlined under a secretary of early childhood education and would be paired with a plan to fully finance special education in public schools. Such adjustments would need to pass the Kansas Legislature, which has a two-thirds Republican majority.
“I’ve said time and time again that it’s my goal to leave office having built the most robust, comprehensive early childhood education system in the country,” Kelly said.
She is running for reelection against Republican nominee Derek Schmidt, who has served more than a decade as the state’s attorney general. With two weeks remaining in the general election, both candidates aimed Monday to reinforce campaign attacks and remind voters about what priorities they would pursue if elected the state’s chief executive on Nov. 8.
Schmidt released a lengthy statement that pointed to his first-term objectives on education and other issues. He addressed Kelly’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to state and national emergency declarations and decisions to transition Kansas public schools to an online format rather than in-class instruction.
He said the state’s governor “rushed to lock kids out of their classrooms” and that children and parents ought to be the first consideration when implementing education policy. His remarks, first released to Fox News, didn’t address how he would have dealt with the COVID-19 health risks to teachers, staff and administrators if mass gatherings in schools continued when the pandemic struck in 2020.
“Our current self-proclaimed education governor … has done more damage to more of our children than any other governor in state history,” Schmidt said.
Kelly’s outline of second-term priorities included investment in recruiting businesses and jobs to Kansas. She would emphasize expansion of apprenticeship programs, lowering of college costs and construction of more affordable housing.
She would commit the state to delivery of high-speed internet to every hospital, school, business or home that sought it.
“In just four years,” Kelly said, “we’ve put Kansas back on track, built an award-winning stable economy and broke records for new business investment. But there is more we must do.”
The Kelly administration claims to have attracted $14 billion in new business investment, including a $4 billion Panasonic manufacturing plant, and to creating or retaining 51,000 jobs.
Schmidt, who served in the Kansas Senate with Kelly, said an influx of federal funding associated with the pandemic had inflated state budgets approved by the GOP-led Legislature and the Democratic governor to unsustainable levels.
He referred to Kelly’s time as governor as a period of “big spending, big government.” On Sunday during a speech at a Kansas Capitol rally with members of the Kansas Patriots, Schmidt said socialists in Washington, D.C., had taken over instruments of political power. That’s a direction “that is simply not right for so many of us in Kansas,” Schmidt said.
The sparsely attended event in Topeka included remarks by Justin Spiehs, a Lawrence resident arrested at least twice for protesting COVID-19 policies. He directed his ire at “milquetoast” government officials, including Republicans, and lauded the repeated demand by one person in the crowd to “get rid of these traitors.”
Schmidt also criticized Kelly for vetoing 20 individual tax cuts, including a package of tax cuts sought by business interests that was paired with reduction in the state’s 6.5% sales tax on groceries. Kelly proposed repeal of that unpopular food sales tax effective July 1, but signed an alternative adopted by the 2022 Legislature phasing out that tax over three years.
“Kansas needs a new governor who will make daily life more affordable during this time of record high gas prices, soaring grocery bills and a lagging state economy,” Schmidt said.
Biden v. Brownback
Schmidt responded to claims that he would be a clone of former Gov. Sam Brownback by declaring the state’s current governor was nothing more than a puppet for “out-of-touch” policies favored by President Joe Biden, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York.
Brownback, who resigned in 2018 to work for President Donald Trump, anchored his governorship on the “experimental” premise that eliminating the state’s income tax would generate widespread job growth and overall economic prosperity. It resulted in a state revenue collapse, budget cuts, an increase in the sales tax rate and eventual repeal of his tax program.
Schmidt said Kelly sought to “hide behind a fake middle-of-the-road facade” and the November election was about changing course “from the party of Joe Biden and Laura Kelly.”
In that same vein, a theme of special-interest advertising crafted to undermine Schmidt alleged his agenda would parallel that of Brownback. The association between Schmidt and Brownback has been relied upon by Kelly to outline what could transpire if she wasn’t reelected and what she had done to reverse Brownback-era “mismanagement.”
“It resulted from politicians who put their own ideological agenda ahead of what was best for Kansas,” Kelly said. “Those same old extreme politicians threaten to take us back. We can’t afford to do that.”
Schmidt has been endorsed by Trump, former Vice President Mike Pence, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts and a collection of GOP governors. Kelly’s list of Republican endorsements included U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, former Govs. Bill Graves and Mike Hayden and, recently, former Attorney General Carla Stovall.
Stovall left office in 2003 and intentionally had stayed on the political sidelines.
“But the stakes of this election are too high,” Stovall said. “I have seen how Derek Schmidt has used my former office these last few years and I worry he will replicate that in the governor’s office. He uses taxpayer dollars to pursue a particular political agenda that does not respect the views of most Kansans.”
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