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Kansas Primary Candidates Learn Their Fates with All Eyes on Constitutional Amendment Voting

By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector


Topeka, Kan. (Kansas Reflector)— Republican and Democratic primaries for Kansas governor were over months ago, but GOP voters Tuesday must sort out their partisan nominees for attorney general, secretary of state and treasurer while Democrats choose among six candidates for U.S. Senate.

Another Republican primary of note — it’s peculiar, not competitive — pits U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, who has served in Congress since 1997, against Derby resident Joan Farr, who also is an official GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Oklahoma.

The August primary also will settle the lineup for all 125 seats in the Kansas House and the special election in the Kansas Senate.

Conclusion of the primary season will light the fuse of the gubernatorial race between Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the certain Republican nominee. The Libertarian Party’s nominee is Seth Cordell of Lyons.

Hiawatha state Sen. Dennis Pyle turned in the required petition signatures to be placed on the November ballot as an independent candidate for governor, but the process of verifying or challenging those signatures hasn’t been completed.

The four campaigns for U.S. House should pick up steam and test Republican legislators’ strategy of gerrymandering the 3rd District enough to help Republican Amanda Adkins slip by U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation. The plan involved shifting half of Wyandotte County to the 2nd District represented by GOP U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner. It included jettisoning Lawrence from LaTurner’s district to the expansive, rural 1st District served by GOP U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann.

Abortion amendment

Of course, candidates have struggled for attention the past few months because so much oxygen has been sucked out of the room by opponents and advocates of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would declare women had no constitutional right to abortion in the state.

In 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court issued an opinion affirming a woman’s right to bodily autonomy, including abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in June shifted to the 50 states the opportunity to shape state-specific approaches to abortion.

Intense interest in the amendment — the first statewide referendum on abortion rights since Roe v. Wade’s end — could help set a record for voter turnout in a primary election and for money spent to influence voters on a constitutional amendment in Kansas. Turnout was projected to be 36% after ranging from 20.25 in 2014 to a previous high of 34.2% in 2020. More than $11 million has been invested in trying to persuade voters on the amendment.

All registered Kansans, including Libertarian and unaffiliated voters, can cast a vote on the abortion amendment. Convoluted wording of the ballot amendment, which was written by anti-abortion legislators and lobbyists, has led to confusion about what a “yes” or “no” vote meant.

On Monday, thousands of Kansas voters received text messages designed to mislead opponents of the amendment to mistakenly vote for it. In part, the text said “voting ‘yes’ on the amendment gives women a choice.”

“This is yet another example of the desperate and deceitful tactics of the Value Them Both campaign, lying to the voters of Kansas,” said Ashley All, spokeswoman for anti-amendment group Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. “The truth is that voting ‘yes’ opens the door to a total ban on abortion. A ‘no’ vote maintains current regulations on abortion. A ‘no’ vote protects our constitutional right to safe, legal abortion in Kansas. A ‘no’ vote keeps the constitution unchanged. A ‘no’ vote prevents government control over private medical decisions.”

Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor who served as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, received one of the texts.

“This misleading text shouldn’t surprise anyone,” Sebelius said. “The anti-choice movement has been lying to the voters of Kansas for decades. This act of desperation won’t stop the voters of Kansas from protecting their constitutional rights and freedom by voting ‘no’ tomorrow.”

GOP rumble for AG

Michael Smith, a political science professor at Emporia State University, said the primary to watch would be the Republican contest for attorney general.

“Perennial firebrand Kris Kobach faces challenges from state Senator Kellie Warren and former federal prosecutor Tony Mattivi,” he said. “All stress their conservative credentials, including opposition to numerous Biden administration initiatives and a promise to get tough on crime.”

Kobach, the former two-term secretary of state from rural Lecompton, came to the race wounded by losses in the 2020 U.S. Senate primary and the 2018 general race. He brings high name recognition, but polls reveal he possesses high negatives.

Warren, a Leawood attorney who built a career in civil law, was endorsed by the Kansas Chamber, Americans for Prosperity and other organizations working to defeat Kobach. Mattivi, a Topekan who prosecuted terrorists for the U.S. Department of Justice and worked in the attorney general’s office, is the dark horse candidate. The winner will take on Democratic attorney general candidate Chris Mann, a former Lawrence police officer.

‘Threads the needle’

Secretary of State Scott Schwab, an Olathe Republican who replaced Kobach four years ago, drew a primary challenge from former Johnson County Commission member Mike Brown, who has alleged Schwab didn’t sufficiently respond to President Donald Trump’s bogus claims the 2020 election was embroiled in fraud and stolen by President Joe Biden. The Democratic nominee for secretary of state will be Jeanna Repass of Overland Park.

“Schwab carefully threads the needle by stating that no such fraud occurred in Kansas, which is true, but he neglects to mention that it did not occur in other states either,” Smith said.

The GOP contest for state treasurer pits state Rep. Steven Johnson of Assaria against state Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker. Both have lengthy records as state legislators, which was the genesis of a late-campaign controversy regarding tax votes cast by the Republican lawmakers. The winner faces Democratic state Treasurer Lynn Rogers, who was appointed to the job in 2020.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate options for Democrats include Mark Holland, the former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas. Others on the primary ballot: Mike Andra, of Wichita; Paul Buskirk, of Lawrence; Robert Klingenberg, of Salina; Michael Soetaert, of Alta Vista; and Patrick Wiesner, of Overland Park.

Voting reminders

Schwab, who serves as the state’s top elections officer, said polls open statewide at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. However, anyone in line when the polls close must be allowed to vote. Results of the voting will be shared on the secretary of state’s website, which goes live at 5 p.m. and will update numbers throughout the evening.

All advance mail ballots returned in person or at a ballot drop box must be deposited by 7:00 p.m. Tuesday to be counted. Ballots submitted by mail postmarked by election day must be received at a county election office by 5 p.m. Friday to be added to the totals.

Kansas law bans electioneering within 250 feet of a polling place. The restriction includes signs or messages clearly intended to influence or persuade eligible voters. The wearing of political attire, including hats, shirts, buttons or stickers at polling sites, is prohibited.