Democrat Laura Kelly Dodges Several Questions During Kansas Gubernatorial Debate

Laura Kelly, governor of Kansas, speaks during a news conference in Manhattan, Kansas, U.S
Doug Barrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Vulnerable incumbent Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) refrained from clarifying her stance on several key issues during her second gubernatorial debate against state Attorney General and GOP candidate Derek Schmidt on Wednesday.

Schmidt and Kelly squared off in an hour-long debate presented in partnership with the Johnson County Bar Association at the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park. The debate was moderated by Kansas City PBS news host Nick Haines, who was notably pleasant and often injected tasteful comedy into the discussion. The debate will play on Channel 19.1 at 7 p.m. CT.

The debate was likely the last to take place before election day — the first occurred in September and was arguably much more tense and accompanied by a rather rowdy audience. There has not been much polling on the race, but Emerson College Polling/The Hill released its first survey of the Kansas Gubernatorial race in September showing Kelly with a two point lead over Trump-endorsed Schmidt, 45 percent to 43 percent. The Credibility Interval (CI), which is similar to a margin of error, is ±3 percentage points, meaning Kelly and Schmidt are in a statistical tie.


Who Will Lead Kansas? The Kansas Governor's Debate

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly (D) squares off against Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt (R) in an hour-long debate from the Doubletree Hotel in Overland Park. Kansas City PBS news host Nick Haines moderates the exchange. The discussion is presented in partnership with the Johnson County Bar Association.

Posted by Kansas City PBS on Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Debate Highlights 


Kelly refused to explicitly state whether she supports radical abortion policies, including abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, when challenged by Schmidt, who is pro-life.

“I do believe that going forward, the biggest challenge will be in defending those limitations and restrictions that are already on the books. I believe they will be subject to legal challenge. I am committed to defending them going forward,” Schmidt said, adding: 

And the governor has made no such commitment. In fact, her views on this, as best I can tell, are far out of the mainstream. I’ve yet to hear her articulate any restriction on access to abortion that she would support. In fact, she voted against everyone that came before her when she was in the state senate and vetoed every one that landed on her desk since she’s been governor. 

Kelly replied by stating that she has also “been very consistent” in her position that “a woman’s medical decisions should be made between her, her family, and her doctor, and that women should have bodily autonomy equal to that of men.”

Schmidt said in his rebuttal:

So the governor just spent 60 seconds in a lot of words without telling you any limitation on abortion that she would support. The fact is she voted no on all of the common sense, mostly bipartisan restrictions already on the books in Kansas: limits on late-term access, requirements for parental consent, prohibitions on taxpayer funding. I believe those positions are out of the mainstream. I will defend those current laws on the books  — the governor’s position suggest she would not.

Kelly again did not directly answer Schmidt’s challenge, instead saying, “I for 18 years have had the same position on this issue. So I really don’t have much more to say.”

Following in California’s Footsteps? 

When Haines asked Kelly if she would consider outlawing the sale of gas powered vehicles by 2035, like California has done, Kelly never directly answered the question, but said in part:

You know, Kansas is really uniquely focused though to lead the way in expansion renewable energy. We’re, strong on wind, solar biofuels, and now even green hydrogen. So when I think about climate change and those kinds of things, I really see it as a huge job creation opportunity for our state. 

When Haines asked Schmidt the same question, he called out Kelly for trying to avoid the question and proclaimed that Kansas does not want to transform into Gavin Newsom’s California:

Well, I didn’t quite hear the governor’s answer to the question, which is whether she would advocate policies like California’s. My answer to that is no. I think Kansas is a wonderful place, and we don’t want to be more like California, and I do not think their command and control approach is the right way to deal with energy police. 

Transgender Athletes 

Kelly and Schmidt have long volleyed about whether males should be allowed to play on female sports teams. Schmidt is staunchly against allowing males with biological advantages to take opportunities from female athletes and has promised to sign the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act — legislation Kelly has vetoed twice.

When Kelly vetoed the legislation in 2021, she claimed the bill would send a “devastating message that Kansas is not welcoming to all children and their families, including those who are transgender – who are already at a higher risk of bullying, discrimination, and suicide.”

When she vetoed again in 2022 she said:

Both Republican and Democratic Governors have joined me in vetoing similar divisive bills for the same reasons: it’s harmful to students and their families and it’s bad for business. We all want a fair and safe place for our kids to play and compete. However, this bill didn’t come from the experts at our schools, our athletes, or the Kansas State High School Activities Association. It came from politicians trying to score political points.

Schmidt has used her vetoes as fuel for his campaign, to which Kelly — who claims to be a “middle-of-the-road” Democrat — responded by releasing an ad stating “of course men should not play girls’ sports.” Kelly took heat from both sides of the political aisle for her advertisement — those on the left felt she had not been loyal enough to the religion of gender ideology, while Republicans accused her of trying to “have it both ways.” The vulnerable incumbent agreed to an interview with the The Kansas City Star‘s editorial board, in which she quickly “clarified” that she actually does think males should be able to play on female sports teams.

According to the report:

[Kelly] denied that her ad was specifically targeted at transgender student-athletes when given the example of a 16-year-old high school student. Instead, she claimed her ad was talking about ‘a male over the age of 18’ who wanted to compete with girls — implying that her comments were about age rather than just gender identity. “The ad that I put out was to respond to the misleading attacks that my opponent has put out that I favor letting men play in girls sports,” Kelly claimed. “I have never said that.”

Again in the debate, Kelly tried to soft-pedal her pro-transgender stance by using the red-herring, “grown men playing on young girls’ sports teams” argument, which has nothing to do with the actual transgender athlete argument:

I do believe in basic fairness. Nobody should have an unfair advantage. But that’s exactly why we have governing bodies like the Kansas State High School Activities Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association to look at cases on an individual basis, have the facts in front of them, and, and make rulings. You know, Derek’s claim that I support men playing in girls’ sports is just so absurd. It is not happening here in Kansas. We really do need to focus on the issues of true concern to people, our education, our economy, our healthcare access. [emphasis added]

Schmidt, in his rebuttal, said: ” a lot of words governor, but ultimately we just fundamentally disagree on this issue.”

“I believe that people who are biologically male should not be allowed to compete in sports that are reserved for female athletes. Period. End of story. Men, women, transgender — use whatever language you want, but I simply believe that principle is common sense and ought to be the law of the state of Kansas. There are 18 states that have adopted that into their state law. I think they are correct,” he continued. 


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.