TOPEKA — Democrat Patrick Schmidt harshly criticized Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner during a televised debate Thursday for hiding on Jan. 6, 2021, while Capitol Police “were getting the s*** beat out of them,” then voting against accepting the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Schmidt, a U.S. Navy intelligence officer who is considered an extreme longshot in the 2nd District race, extended his criticism to LaTurner’s anti-abortion views, support for former Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed economic policies and opposition to Medicaid expansion.
LaTurner appeared calm throughout the hourlong attack while repeatedly insisting that Schmidt was distorting his voting record in Congress. LaTurner focused on national GOP talking points about inflation, crime and border control.
KTWU, the PBS affiliate in Topeka, broadcast the debate in partnership with Washburn University’s political science department. Washburn professor Bob Beatty moderated the debate.
Jan. 6 attack
Beatty asked LaTurner if he stands by his decision as a newly elected Congressman in 2021 to vote against accepting the election results.
“Joe Biden is the legitimate president of the United States,” LaTurner said. “The vote to not certify the election results in some states was about highlighting what some governors and secretaries of state have done, which was unilaterally change election law.”
Schmidt said LaTurner was lying.
“He ran and hid when the Capitol was attacked, when police officers were getting the s*** beat out of them with lead pipes and American flags,” Schmidt said. “And then he gave the criminals exactly what they wanted. For no reason, without any evidence, he voted to overturn election results in three states.”
Schmidt referenced reports that another congressman asked President Donald Trump to issue a pardon to protect the 147 members of the House and Senate who voted to decertify the election results.
“I’ve never needed a pardon in a job I’ve been on in less than a week,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt described the Jan. 6, 2021, attack as a “criminal conspiracy” and said it was important to hold the architects of that conspiracy accountable.
“Instead of denouncing what happened, Jake continued to seek the endorsement of the porn star president that led that attack,” Schmidt said.
LaTurner complained that Schmidt had “tried to connect me to criminal conspiracies and seeking a pardon, which just flat out is not true.”
“What happened on Jan. 6 is horrific,” LaTurner said. “I was there that day with my wife and four kids. What I’ve said from the very beginning, on the day, is that this cannot take place in the United States of America. We need to make sure that everyone that broke the law that day is held accountable.”
LaTurner sidestepped a question about whether he would support a federal abortion ban.
Instead of answering the question directly, LaTurner said he was focused on making sure taxpayer funding is not used on abortion. Then, he falsely accused Democrats of supporting abortion “up until the moment of birth for any reason.”
Schmidt seized the opportunity to point out LaTurner’s anti-abortion views.
Schmidt repeatedly referenced a $100,000 donation by LaTurner to the failed campaign to pass a constitutional amendment on abortion in Kansas, which voters overwhelmingly rejected Aug. 2. Schmidt said the amendment would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortion without exception, meaning a 10-year-old rape victim would be forced to carry her pregnancy to term and give birth without regard for her life or safety.
LaTurner first got involved in politics “not to help people, but to ban abortions,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also referenced LaTurner’s “no” vote in July on federal legislation that declared a fundamental right to contraception. LaTurner said he didn’t like FDA restrictions in the bill, but Schmidt characterized it as a vote to ban birth control.
“I don’t want to be where we were before 1972 where we don’t have fair and legal access to birth control all across this country,” Schmidt said. “I think that’s dangerous. And I think that’s way too extreme for Kansas. And no means no.”
Beatty said the top songs in 1979 were “Hot Stuff,” by Donna Summer, “YMCA” by the Village people “and a song we would all awkwardly slow dance to in junior high called ‘Reunited,’ by Peaches and Herb.”
But 1979 was also known for 11% inflation, Beatty said. This year, inflation has reached a 40-year high of 9%.
The question: What can Congress do about it?
For LaTurner, the problem is tied to the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package passed by Democrats in 2021.
The plan extended unemployment benefits and expanded the child tax credit and earned income tax credit. It also provided billions in small business grants, aid to local governments and schools, and funding to support the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.
Democrats argue that soaring corporate profits are the primary culprit.
“What we need to do at the federal level is make certain that we stop the trillions of dollars of spending,” LaTurner said. “We need to cut government waste.”
LaTurner said Schmidt has described the economy as the best it has been since 1984.
“That’s someone that doesn’t really understand the problem,” LaTurner said.
“Kansans are hurting,” LaTurner added. “They’re sitting around the kitchen table, wondering how they’re going to pay their bills. When they go to the grocery store, it costs more. When they go fill up at the pump, it costs more.”
Schmidt said he knows these challenges firsthand.
When LaTurner was in the Legislature, Schmidt said, he “bankrupted Kansas” by “working with his friend Sam Brownback.” After cutting corporate income tax, the state raised the sales tax and cut public school funding. Both of Schmidt’s parents were teachers.
LaTurner also opposed Medicaid expansion, blocking a billion dollars per year in federal aid.
Schmidt said his dad was ravaged by heart disease and COPD, but had to decide between raising his family or taking the expensive medicine he needed to stay alive. He couldn’t raise two sons and afford his own home. He chose not to take some drugs because he couldn’t afford them. And he spent the last weeks of his life on a breathing machine in the hospital worried about how much the treatment would cost.
“So Jake, if you want to talk about the economy, look my mom in the eye and say you’re sorry for what you did to my family,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the legalization of marijuana would help the tens of thousands of veterans who served in Iraq an Afghanistan as they deal with pain and trauma.
He said it was a “no brainer” that Congress should legalize the drug.
LaTurner said he preferred to let states decide what to do with the drug, then pivoted to the fentanyl crisis and the need for immigration reform.
“We need to secure the southern border, provide the resources that the Border Patrol needs to do their job, so we can stop this onslaught of human trafficking and drug trafficking and support our law enforcement here in Kansas that are dealing with the issue every single day,” LaTurner said.
LaTurner said immigration reform should include building a wall “in the places that that makes the most sense.”
Schmidt said people turn to fentanyl after they get hooked on opioids. Part of the problem, Schmidt said, is they don’t have access to health care. The counties in Kansas that have the biggest problem with fentanyl are the ones where hospitals were forced to close — “to pay for tax cuts for the Kochs,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt also questioned LaTurner’s support for law enforcement.
“Jake defunded the police when he was in the state Senate,” Schmidt said. “They raided their pensions, they cut funding for KBI, for the highway patrolmen. And Jake likes to position himself on police. But he not once has talked to a police officer that saved his life on Jan. 6. Six police officers died. Jake hasn’t said a word and hasn’t talked to them or their families.”
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