Kansas — a deeply Republican state that became the darling of national liberals by rejecting a potential abortion ban in August — heads into the Nov. 8 election for governor with a fairly stark choice.
Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly comes asking for reelection arguing that she led the state out of a stubborn budget crisis that followed the tax cuts and government service rollbacks powered through by her Republican predecessors, Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer.
She casts herself as a middle-of-the-road moderate so business-friendly and forward-looking that she drew Panasonic’s $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant to the state.
Her chief challenger, Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, paints her as a liberal in step with President Joe Biden and blames inflation on their policies. He insists Kelly should have done more to make life for Kansans more affordable amid rising prices.
Libertarian Seth Cordell and independent candidate Dennis Pyle, a conservative state senator, are also running for governor. But polling suggests it’s a tight race between Kelly and Schmidt.
The two differ on the economy, education and abortion. They have different visions for the future of Kansas.
Here’s how the two leading candidates stand on key issues:
- Kelly: The Kansas Legislature passed a food sales tax phase-out in the spring, but on a timetable slower than what Kelly wanted. She said she will call for the complete cut when the Legislature returns in January and remove sales tax on necessities like diapers and feminine hygiene products. She also proposes a sales tax holiday for school supplies in August. Finally, she wants to provide up to $50 million in tax relief over three years to seniors making less than $100,000 a year.
- Schmidt: Also focusing on seniors, Schmidt wants to enact a tax plan that exempts pensions, Social Security and private retirement distributions from state income tax. Schmidt estimates the relief on Social Security would provide up to $112 million of relief a year by 2025, and the plan for private retirement relief would cut taxes by up to $236 million by 2025. He also wants to remove sales tax for necessities like diapers and feminine hygiene products.
- Kelly: She wants to expand opportunities for students after high school through trade schools and technical colleges. She also wants to decrease the cost of tuition at the state’s universities. To address mental health struggles, Kelly also calls for adding more psychologists and social workers to public schools.
- Schmidt: He wants to give parents more say over classroom curriculum, like stopping gender and sexual identity content for young children. He also plans to quickly sign a bill Kelly vetoed twice that would ban transgender girls from girls sports. He argues it is unfair to allow students who were assigned male at birth to compete in girls’ leagues.
- Kelly: Kelly calls for several gun control measures. They include requiring background checks on gun sales, banning bump stocks and limiting access to some assault-style firearms designed for combat. She also wants to increase funding for the Kansas Highway Patrol to fill open jobs.
- Schmidt: Focusing on safety in schools, Schmidt calls for increasing funding for the state’s Safe and Secure Schools grant program to pay for strengthening school entryways and security cameras. He also wants to put more police officers in schools that want them. For gun violence, Schmidt proposes legislation that strengthens penalties for felons who use firearms illegally.
- Kelly: For the duration of her tenure, Kelly has called for expanding Medicaid to provide more lower-income Kansans with health insurance. She said she will continue to call for its expansion in a second term.
- Schmidt: With the Republican supermajority in the Kansas Legislature opposing the idea, Schmidt said the state is not going to expand Medicaid anytime soon. He said he wants to improve the current health care system by offering more medical student loan repayments to doctors and medical specialists who work in underserved rural areas.
- Kelly: Noting that Kansas voters overwhelmingly rejected an amendment to the state constitution that would have removed the right to an abortion, Kelly maintains her abortion rights stance is aligned with a majority of the state’s voters. She argues the matter should be left to women and their doctors.
- Schmidt: Opposed to abortion rights, Schmidt tells voters he wants a Kansas with fewer abortions. But he also said the state’s vote in August “must be respected.” If elected, he plans to defend abortion restrictions currently in place, arguing they are in jeopardy of being struck down by state courts. His campaign would not say if he would support new restrictions.
Election day is Nov. 8.