KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is the latest candidate to throw his name into the ring for a shot at becoming the state’s next governor.
Schmidt, 53, who has served as attorney general since 2011, announced his intent to run for the state’s highest office Tuesday morning.
"Stability, practicality, less-is-more all ought to be guiding principles," he said in a pre-announcement interview. "Most Kansans, generally, prefer instinctively conservative leadership."
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Schmidt has been at odds with Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s decisions, including vaccine distribution to prison populations, school district mask mandates and attempting to restore the legislature’s ability to revoke state-agency issued regulation.
"In this case, she tried to order churches closed," Schmidt said. "The federal government had to tell her no. She tried to order businesses closed and the legislature had to tell her no. And then she tried to order schools closed and the state Department of Education, the Board of Education, had to tell her no. I just think that suggests that she doesn't have the right approach to trusting Kansans on the issues."
Schmidt also issued a legal opinion in the early stages of the pandemic, questioning the state’s authority to prosecute people who violate emergency orders.
He increased his political profile by joining battles over the 2020 election, siding with fellow Republicans who have spread former President Donald Trump's unfounded allegations of voter fraud even though he acknowledges the legitimacy of Democrat Joe Biden's victory.
The Republican official is the state’s second-longest serving attorney general and also has served as a state senator, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate majority leader.
Schmidt was a Kansas Senate majority leader in 2010 when he made his first run for attorney general and unseated a Democrat after promising to push back against the Affordable Care Act championed by then-President Barack Obama. Schmidt's participation in lawsuits with other GOP attorneys general have been a regular feature of his tenure.
Former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer also has set his sights on returning to public office. Colyer called Schmidt a politician who spent the last 20 years "carrying the water for the most liberal elements of the Republican party." Colyer then described himself as the "authentic conservative" candidate.
Both Schmidt and Colyer are running as limited-government conservatives who oppose abortion, limits on gun rights and an expansion of the state's Medicaid health coverage for the needy. They'll also play to Trump's supporters in a state Trump carried comfortably in two elections.
Schmidt brought Kansas in December into an unsuccessful effort by Texas' GOP attorney general to overturn election results in four battleground states won by Biden. Schmidt's announcement of it came after Colyer called on social media for him to do it.
"I welcome Derek Schmidt to the Governor’s race," Colyer said in a statement Tuesday. "It’s good that Kansas voters will now have a clear choice between me, the conservative candidate, and Derek Schmidt who has spent over twenty years carrying water for the most liberal elements of the Kansas Republican Party. I started my public service working for President Reagan, a conservative hero. Derek Schmidt worked for two US Senators—one of whom served in the Obama Cabinet and the other endorsed Barbara Bollier last year and Laura Kelly before that. Throughout my service in the Legislature and in the executive branch I’ve been 100% pro-life, pro-Second Amendment and against tax increases. I’m the authentic conservative in this race. There’s a big difference in our records and our approaches to issues. I look forward to a great campaign."
Both parties weighed in on the candidates.
"Either one of them wins, I'm OK," House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins said, according to the Associated Press.
The Kansas Democratic Party called Schmidt a "cookie-cutter politician cut in the same mold as Sam Brownback and Kris Kobach," according to a statement released Tuesday.
"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 taxpayer millions of dollars defending Kobach's unconstitutional lawsuits," the statement 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."
The Republicans would face Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat.
Kelly has served as governor since 2019. She has professed indifference to the emerging race. Her campaign issued a statement Friday saying that she's not focused "on an election that's two years away."