GOP hits Kansas governor hard on trans athletes, her new ad

Sep 21, 2022, 2:22 PM | Updated: Sep 22, 2022, 9:34 am
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a debate in her race for reelection at the Kansas State Fair,...

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a debate in her race for reelection at the Kansas State Fair, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Hutchinson, Kansas. The Democratic governor says she's confident that a majority of Kansas voters are with her in opposing a proposed anti-abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution after it was rejected in August. (AP Photo/John Hanna)

(AP Photo/John Hanna)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas’ Democratic governor launched a new television ad on Wednesday in which she says men don’t belong in women’s sports. It’s a move seeking to blunt Republican attacks on her for vetoing two proposals to ban transgender athletes from girls’ and women’s school and college sports.

Gov. Laura Kelly doesn’t go into details on her position in the 30-second ad, which is her first to address what Republicans see as a key education issue that hurts Kelly during a close reelection race. Her campaign later said Kelly believes decisions about transgender athletes should be made by schools, doctors, families and local officials and that the two bills she vetoed would have “created unnecessary new government mandates.”

GOP challenger Derek Schmidt, the state’s three-term attorney general, tweeted that Kelly is lying about her record, and the Republican Governors Association released a digital ad Wednesday highlighting Kelly’s vetoes. Other Republicans said Kelly is trying to hide an unpopular, liberal stance.

But Democrats said the party’s voters would understand the ad as saying that the issue doesn’t involve men playing women’s sports because trans women are women.

“Men aren’t playing girls’ sports. This is the scare-tactic framing of the far right,” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBTQ-rights group. “What we’re talking about in this situation is schoolkids in competitive games with their peers at school, and our position is, trans girls are girls; trans boys are boys.”

In the ad, Kelly looks into the camera and says: “Of course men should not play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree there,” before criticizing Schmidt on school funding issues.

Her campaign launched the ad after a Republican Governors Association ad featured a collegiate swimmer criticizing Kelly. That followed five other ads in which the RGA raised the issue, including one last week in which Schmidt says Kelly is aligned with groups pushing “the transgender agenda.”

The swimmer featured in the last RGA ad, University of Kentucky graduate Riley Gaines, said in a phone interview that she was surprised by Kelly’s ad because, “It’s not aligning with anything she’s said thus far.”

Tim Shallenburger, a former state treasurer and Kansas Republican Party chair, said Kelly had to deal with the issue because it’s important to many voters. He called Kelly’s latest ad “pretty sly,” adding that she’s “trying to catch Republicans.”

Joan Wagnon, a former Topeka mayor and Kansas Democratic Party chair, questioned whether Schmidt’s stance will play well with moderate Republicans. But Wagnon also said that, had she been the candidate, she’s not sure she would have made the ad.

“If you get sucked into those kind of tit-for-tat responses, it clouds your message,” she said.

Kelly is the only Democratic governor running for reelection this year, in a state that former President Donald Trump carried in 2020. That makes her a big target for the national GOP. But Democrats were buoyed in August, when Kansas voters decisively rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed the Republican-controlled state Legislature to greatly restrict or ban abortion. Kelly opposed the measure, while Schmidt backed it.

However, Republicans see an opportunity to tap into suburban parents’ frustrations with coronavirus-related school restrictions and what’s taught about racism, gender and sexuality. They were encouraged by Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the 2021 governor’s race in normally blue Virginia after making parents’ rights in education a key issue.

Youngkin and Schmidt were set to campaign together Thursday in the Kansas City area, after a Sunday rally with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who has pushed conservative education initiatives.

And Republicans across the U.S. have framed restrictions on transgender athletes as keeping competition fair and preserving opportunities for girls and women, though there are relatively few transgender athletes.

Several polls this year show majorities of Americans oppose transgender athletes competing in women’s and girls’ sports, including an NPR/Ipsos poll in June that showed about two-thirds of U.S. adults are opposed to allowing transgender student athletes to compete on women’s and girls’ sports teams. A Washington Post/University of Maryland poll in May showed only about 3 in 10 said transgender women or girls should be allowed to compete.

State Sen. Renee Erickson, a Wichita Republican and the leading sponsor of the two measures, said of Kelly: “She’s having to pivot and backtrack on her two vetoes, and I don’t think Kansans are going to buy it, quite frankly.”

Including Florida and Texas, 18 GOP-led states have laws banning transgender athletes from participating in youth sports, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a Colorado think tank promoting LGBTQ rights. In the Kelly campaign’s statement Wednesday, spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald noted that Republican governors in Indiana and Utah have vetoed such measures, although those vetoes were overridden by GOP-controlled Legislatures.

Critics say such bans are discriminatory, and that merely discussing them leads to bullying.

Kelly’s veto messages for bills in 2021 and 2022 also said they would hurt the state’s business climate. In her second message, she added that such proposals did not come from athletes or schools but from “politicians trying to score political points.”


Associated Press polling writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report from Washington.


Follow John Hanna on Twitter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea's missile launch with file fo...
Associated Press

US carrier, S Korea warships start new drills amid tensions

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan launched a new round of naval drills with South Korean warships on Friday, a day after North Korea fired more ballistic missiles and flew warplanes in an escalation of its weapons tests. The Reagan and its battle group returned to the waters near […]
20 hours ago
This image released by Polk & Co. shows the company during a performance of Roundabout Theatre Comp...
Associated Press

Review: Broadway revival of ‘1776’ shakes things up nicely

NEW YORK (AP) — The somewhat antiquated musical “1776” has long been ripe for a radical makeover and it has found one on Broadway. “Someone oughta open up a window!” an actor cries in the first scene and that applies to both the stifling heat of the setting as well as this revival, which brings […]
20 hours ago
Far-right Proud Boys member Jeremy Joseph Bertino, second from left, joins other supporters of Pres...
Associated Press

Riot plea: Proud Boys member admits to seditious conspiracy

WASHINGTON (AP) — A North Carolina man pleaded guilty Thursday to plotting with other members of the far-right Proud Boys to violently stop the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election, making him the first member of the extremist group to plead guilty to a seditious conspiracy charge. Jeremy Joseph Bertino, 43, has agreed […]
20 hours ago
FILE - This undated photo released by the Arizona Attorney General's Office shows Guillermina Fuent...
Associated Press

Arizona woman seeks leniency in ballot harvesting case

PHOENIX (AP) — A parade of character witnesses provided a judge Thursday with glowing reports about a southern Arizona woman who admitted collecting four voted early ballots in the 2020 primary election, as her lawyer seeks leniency and prosecutors urge him to send her to prison for a year. Testimony in Yuma County Superior Court […]
20 hours ago
FILE - A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves depicted on it during a protest calling fo...
Associated Press

Biden pardons thousands for ‘simple possession’ of marijuana

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden is pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of “simple possession” of marijuana under federal law, as his administration takes a dramatic step toward decriminalizing the drug and addressing charging practices that disproportionately impact people of color. Biden’s move also covers thousands convicted of the crime in the District of Columbia. […]
20 hours ago
President Joe Biden aboard Marine One arrives at the Wall Street Landing Zone in New York, Thursday...
Associated Press

Biden: Nuclear ‘Armageddon’ risk highest since ’62 crisis

NEW YORK (AP) — President Joe Biden said Thursday that the risk of nuclear “Armageddon” is at the highest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, as Russian officials speak of the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons after suffering massive setbacks in the eight-month invasion of Ukraine. Speaking at a fundraiser for the Democratic […]
20 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine

Why your student-athlete’s physical should be conducted by a sports medicine specialist

Dr. Anastasi from Mayo Clinic Orthopedics and Sports Medicine in Tempe answers some of the most common questions.
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
GOP hits Kansas governor hard on trans athletes, her new ad