Kansas Gubernatorial Debate: Schmidt Says He Is a Conservative Fighter, Kelly Touts Expanded Bureaucracy

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt , Gov. Laura Kelly
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, John Hanna

Trump-endorsed Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt promised to stand up to big government and Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly tried to pitch herself as a moderate in the state’s first gubernatorial debate Saturday.

Schmidt and Kelly’s Kansas State Fair Gubernatorial Debate at the Peoples Bank and Trust Arena was described by one panelist as “raucous,” as the pair debated over hot button state issues, and the 800-strong crowd clamored with both praise and ire.

Schmidt honed in on the fallout from Kelly’s pandemic lockdown, education, and the state’s foster care system and childcare. He also touted his endorsements from farmers and law enforcement in the state, and promised to stand up to the Biden administration’s radical Green New Deal agenda and open border policies. Kelly made many promises to prioritize issues that have fallen through the cracks, and boasted of fully funding education and bringing business to the state. She also often presented the creation of cabinet positions and advisory boards as solutions to state problems.

“Governor Kelly is happy about her record because she is focused on Kansas government. But I’m critical of the past four years because I’m focused on you, and your family, and your children,” Schmidt said of Kelly’s bureaucracy expansion.

Kelly said she ran for governor four years ago because she wanted to get Kansas “back on track after the prior administration had really decimated our state.” She characterized her governorship as “meeting in the middle to get things done” and claimed she “restored a sense of civility to our politics.”

Debate Highlights

Schmidt slammed Kelly for being the first governor in the country to shut down schools, despite calling herself the “education” governor.

“Fully funding schools can only work if you don’t lock the kids out of them after they’re fully funded. First, my opponent locked our kids out of school. Then she tried to lock parents out of school by throwing out the Parents Bill of Rights,” Schmidt said. “The damage done by this governor to our kids exceeds the damage done by any previous governor in the history of this state.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, right, the Republican nominee for governor, makes a point during a debate as Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly watches at the Kansas State Fair, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Hutchinson, Kan. Both candidates are appealing to independents and moderate Republicans, who are crucial swing voters. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, right, the Republican nominee for governor, makes a point during a debate as Democrat Gov. Laura Kelly watches at the Kansas State Fair, Saturday, September 10, 2022, in Hutchinson, Kansas. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

Kelly responded by saying she will “never apologize for protecting the lives of our children,” though she made no mention of the fact that 0.00 percent – 0.02 percent of all child COVID-19 cases resulted in death and 0.1 percent to 1.5 percent of child coronavirus cases have been estimated to result in hospitalization.

Kelly also doubled down on her lockdown policies when Schmidt accused her of causing the closure of 80 childcare facilities.

“It’s true. There were a number of facilities that closed down — they had to. They were congregate facilities. It was not safe to have kids there. We also needed to shift our attention to our hospitals. So trust that there is nothing I will focus on more,” she said.

She claimed she has “every intention as we go forward into my second term to elevate the issue of childcare and early childhood education by creating a cabinet level position to focus on those issues” and talked about how she has “some of the very best and brightest” installed in the state’s Children’s Cabinet.

“She went straight to where she often does: look how much money they’ve spent. They expanded grants. She’s going to create a new cabinet level secretary,” Schmidt replied. “More bureaucracy — the impediments that I hear from childcare providers is there is too much red tape already.”

Schmidt forced Kelly into a corner about her radical abortion position, and the vulnerable incumbent and supposed-moderate only repeated that she supports a woman’s “right to privacy in making her own medical decisions.” The topic came up in relation to a recent decision voters made rejecting a ballot measure that would have affirmed there is not Kansas constitutional right to abortion and reserved, through elected state legislators, the right to pass laws and regulate abortion.

“I am pro-life. I supported the constitutional amendment. Kansas voters have decided, and in our system, their decision has to be respected, which does not mean that the discussion has ended. It will continue as it was before,” Schmidt said.  “Let me tell you though…what was not on the ballot in August was Governor Kelly’s position. Governor Kelly’s position has been consistent, but it is consistently that she supports no restrictions, that she would favor access to abortion up until the moment of birth for any purpose, paid for, with public money from taxpayers. That is an extreme position, and it is not the position shared by most Kansans.”

“I stand here with the majority of cans who believe that politicians should not be making decisions about women’s healthcare,” Kelly replied, not addressing Schmidt’s concerns.

“You know, women make up at least 50 percent of our population, maybe more. They are entitled to the same rights as the other 50 percent. And I wouldn’t want to live in a state that didn’t protect the rights of all Kansans,” she continued, again not addressing the rights of unborn children.

Schmidt also criticized Kelly’s plan to expand the state government’s influence over the Second Amendment, although Kelly pitched herself as a “strong supporter of the Second Amendment.”

“I think I stand with the vast majority of Kansans and Americans who believe that it is time for common sense gun policy. I am not talking about taking guns away from people. What I’m talking about is background checks, red flag laws, ensuring that guns are locked up and kept away from children in their homes. Those are the kinds of things — and I think every responsible gun owner would agree with me,” Kelly contended.

“While responsible gun owners do agree that they need to be responsible with their firearms, they do not agree that it’s the role of the government to tell them how to do it, when to do it, why to do it, and to punish them if they do not do it,” Schmidt replied. “The Second Amendment is not a suggestion, it is a Constitutionally protected right. And so my opponent’s big government solutions to every problem just don’t work here.”

Schmidt additionally accused Kelly of being unwilling to assist with the fallout of President Joe Biden’s open border.

“In fact, there were some border state governors in Texas and Arizona who asked Governor Kelly and lots of other governors, Republicans, and Democrats to send them help because they’re being overrun. And not only did Governor Kelly say no, she also called it a ‘political stunt,'” Schmidt said. “I don’t think it’s a political stunt. I think it is fundamental to the future of this state and the security of this country.”

Kelly responded by stating that she was not willing to “use the military, use our National Guard as political props.” She did note that she ended up sending 250 National Guardsmen to the border, but Schmidt later clarified that those guardsmen “went to the border after being called up by the President of the United States, not by the Governor of the State of Kansas.”

“You know, we have to do better on keeping clear what the feds do and what the states do. And my opponent really likes to muck that up a whole lot. She’s just standing with Joe Biden on a whole lot of stuff,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt and Kelly will face off again at the Johnson Country Bar Gubernatorial Debate on October 5. Kelly declined to engage in any more debates besides the October debate. Schmidt agreed to participate in five total.


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