TOPEKA — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt took the political plunge Tuesday by confirming plans to seek the Republican Party’s nomination for governor in 2022.
His announcement on social media followed a request by a GOP political action committee that he enter the race, which at this stage also includes former Gov. Jeff Colyer. Both were members of the Kansas Senate before assuming statewide office. Schmidt has been elected attorney general three times, while Colyer served as lieutenant governor and as governor before losing the 2018 primary to Republican Kris Kobach.
“Conservative. Fighter. Kansan,” Schmidt posted to his Facebook campaign page. “Running for governor to bring common sense and conservative leadership back to the sunflower state. Kansans deserve a governor who isn’t afraid to fight and knows how to win.”
In an interview with the Kansas Reflector, Schmidt said Kansans yearned for leadership in the governor’s office capable of dealing with day-to-day challenges — large and small — of that office. He pointed to the Kelly administration’s handling of unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic. He asserted the Democratic governor was a victim of computer infrastructure neglect as the coronavirus took people out of work, but she also didn’t respond sufficiently with solutions to problems impeding delivery of aid.
“I believe Kansas can do better,” Schmidt said. “On the whole, Kansans prefer instinctively conservative leadership. I believe Kansans are going to look for a trusted leader. We think we can make this state operate better.”
Winner in the Republican primary would confront Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who dispatched Kobach by bludgeoning him with assertions he would double down on the agenda of former Gov. Sam Brownback.
Vicki Hiatt, chairwoman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said Schmidt was a “cookie-cutter politician in the same mold as Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach.”
“He has traded official favors for campaign contributions, spread lies about the legitimacy of our elections to win political favor with the far-right members of his party and cost Kansas taxpayers millions of dollars defending Kobach’s unconstitutional lawsuits,” Hiatt said. “Returning to Brownback’s failed policies of broken budgets and underfunded public schools would sabotage Kansas’ economic recovery from COVID-19 and hurt students returning to school and trying to make up for lost time.”
She also said Kelly had consistently offered “strong leadership during very challenging times” in terms of state budgeting, public education funding, pressure to avoid tax increases and in response to the pandemic.
Schmidt has engaged in a high-profile duel with Kelly on executive orders issued in 2020 regarding the virus that at least contributed to more than 4,800 Kansans. He said it was wrong for the governor to prioritize prison inmates over elderly law-abiding citizens in vaccine distribution and mistaken to close schools and businesses early in the pandemic.
In a campaign video, Schmidt complained about liberals pushing a “cancel culture” and technology companies that strive to silence conservative voices. He said he was an adherent of Trump’s America first agenda.
Colyer, who was governor for less than a year after resignation of Brownback to work for President Donald Trump, made noise last week by revealing a campaign finance structure that included treasurer Mary Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower.
In response, the Our Way of Life PAC went public with a plea for Schmidt to run for governor. The PAC shared a poll showing Schmidt with an early advantage on Colyer — 27% for Schmidt, 19% for Colyer and half of the survey participants undecided. The PAC recommended Republicans defer to Schmidt so he could have a clear a path to Kelly.
Schmidt, who has served as the state’s attorney general since 2011, attacked the 2010 candidacy of Democratic Attorney General Steve Six by vowing to help in the legal fight against the Affordable Care Act. Six declined to join two-dozen states raising constitutional questions about the ACA.
As attorney general, he hasn’t been shy about using the legal authority of his office to participate in lawsuits against the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He contested Obama’s regulations on the oil and gas industry and the ACA. He was part of a coalition of attorneys general who demanded Trump terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, established by Obama. On Monday, he signed on to a federal lawsuit challenging authority of the Biden administration to implement greenhouse gas regulations by executive order.
He was a supporter of an unsuccessful Texas lawsuit designed to overturn the November election loss by Trump to Biden. The suit supported by Schmidt and more than a dozen attorneys general claimed “unconstitutional” actions in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Pennsylvania — swing states won by Biden — distorted the outcome. The filing repeated baseless claims of election fraud previously rejected by federal and state courts.
In addition, he touted his success arguing two death penalty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and a third case that touched on illegal immigration, identity theft and fraud.
Schmidt was a member of the Kansas Senate from 2001 to 2011. He served six years as Senate majority leader while representing a district that included Independence. In the Senate, he attempted to pass a measure allowing for-profit prisons to build in Kansas because a community in his district was trying to lure a prison to create jobs.
Prior to the state Senate, Schmidt worked as special counsel to Gov. Bill Graves and as a legislative assistant to U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum, both moderate Republicans.