TOPEKA – With only weeks to go before the 2022 election and in a race most pollsters are calling a dead heat, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has apparently reversed course on the transgender sports ban legislation she twiced vetoed – saying “men should not be playing girl’s sports” – then reversing her language again in comments to the Kansas City Star late this week after blowback.
The confusion illustrates the weight of those vetoes on Kelly’s campaign and the rallying point the issue has become for Republicans as the contest for Kansas governor enters its final month.
Kelly’s first 180 degree turn came last week in the latest commercial her campaign released, after her Republican opponent Attorney General Derek Schmidt saw surging support for his position favoring a ban on men competing in Kansas women’s sports at a rally in Olathe with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis the previous Sunday.
Schmidt got standing ovations a number of times from a standing room only crowd of more than 2,000 supporters at Olathe’s Embassy Suites Convention Center, when he doubled down on his previous support for a law passed by the legislature which would have banned men from competing in women’s sports at the high school and college level in Kansas. The bill passed the Kansas Legislature twice in 2020 and 2021, but failed to gain a veto-proof majority in the Kansas House after Kelly blocked the measure both times.
But in her ad, Kelly appeared to reverse her opinion.
“You may have seen my opponent’s attacks, so let me just say it: of course men should not play girls’ sports. OK, we all agree there,” Kelly says in the ad. She spends the remainder of the ad time continuing the theme that a vote for Schmidt is a vote for the policies of former Governor Sam Brownback. Brownback left office in 2018.
But after reaction from both Republicans and from members of the LGBTQ community, Kelly seemed to backpedal in hurried comments to the Kansas City Star Editorial Board on Thursday, saying she supported the NCAA transgender policy that allows males to compete in female collegiate sports, and that her ad comment somehow was pointed at adult men playing female children’s athletics – which has so far not be a public issue.
“We already have a structure in place, the NCAA has a structure in place to deal with issues like this on a one by one basis and I don’t think there’s any other way that you can really deal with this,” Kelly told the Star’s editorial board as reported by the newspaper. Kelly told the board her ad was talking about a male over the age of 18 who wanted to compete with younger girls. She implied her comments were made regarding age and not just gender identity, although that aspect has never been central to the debate to date.
“The ad that I put out was to respond to the misleading attacks that my opponent has put out that I favor letting men play in girls sports,” Kelly said. “I have never said that,” the Star reported.
The raucous support Schmidt received among Republicans when doubling down on the issue of Kelly’s two vetoes saw a precursor in the August primary elections locally, when troubled 5th District Representative Mark Samsel was solidly defeated by Baldwin conservative newcomer Carrie Barth. Samsel bucked fellow Republicans to vote against the ban twice and supported Kelly’s veto on both occasions. Barth, a conservative who favors banning males from female sports and vehemently opposed Kelly’s Covid mandates for school closures and masks, defeated Samsel in August with 63 percent of the vote.