Republican nominee pivots to crime in Kansas governor's race

Election 2022 Kansas Governor Debate
Photo credit AP News/Evert Nelson

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The Republican candidate for Kansas governor is pivoting from education to crime as a focus in the final weeks of the campaign, portraying the Democratic incumbent as anti-police because she created a commission on policing and racial justice in response to the state's protests following the death of George Floyd in 2020.

GOP challenger Derek Schmidt, the state's three-term attorney general, launched a new television ad Thursday against Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly after suggesting during a debate Wednesday that she has largely ignored crime as an issue. In what is expected to be a close race, Schmidt is adopting a tactic used by Republicans across the U.S., and his new ad features video of violence during protests in New York City that followed the police killing of Floyd in Minneapolis.

Schmidt said Wednesday that providing unwavering support for law enforcement officers and prosecutors is the most important thing a governor can do to fight crime.

Kelly argued during the debate that her support for law enforcement is shown by the state's spending on it. Since she took office, spending on the prison system and Kansas Highway Patrol has grown nearly 33%, though funding for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, under Schmidt's control, has remained flat.

The KBI recently reported a small decrease in violent crime in Kansas in 2021 compared with 2020 but said it remained above the average for the past 10 years. That's somewhat in line with FBI estimates that crime rates didn't increase substantially last year but remained above pre-coronavirus pandemic levels.

Schmidt's ad criticizes Kelly over her Commission on Racial Equity and Justice, which she formed in June 2020. The commission issued numerous recommendations in 2020 and 2021, but neither its members nor Kelly pushed the Republican-controlled Legislature to enact them.

Schmidt’s ad says the commission pushed for “anti-policing laws" and said Kelly called police racist by referencing systemic racism when she created the commission.

The commission's recommendations included ensuring robust anti-bias training, prohibiting fired officers from working again in law enforcement agencies, and revising local policies on using force.

Schmidt's campaign specifically took issue with a recommendation that schools look for programs to use “along with or instead of” school safety officers to address student conflict and violence. His campaign later questioned how new programs would treat racism and its influence in U.S. history and on society.

Schmidt's ad questions Kelly's commitment to law enforcement spending by criticizing her over two budget moves.

In June 2020, with the state expecting revenues to drop drastically early in the coronavirus pandemic, Kelly cut $5 million from the budget for grants to schools to help them improve buildings' security. The State Department of Education said Thursday that the money returned for the 2022-2023 school year, along with new authority for schools to use the funds to hire school safety officers.

In April 2021, Kelly vetoed a policy item in the Highway Patrol's budget that would have required its Capitol Police to receive pay equal to that of other troopers. Kelly said in her veto message that lawmakers should have honored a request from the patrol to be allowed to handle the issue internally.

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Featured Image Photo Credit: AP News/Evert Nelson