Sep 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Culture war in Kansas

Mural that says Laura Kelly vetoed transgender sports ban twice

Screenshot: Republican Governors Association ad

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) is airing an ad saying she opposes men playing women's sports, after getting attacked by Republicans for vetoing two bills requiring transgender students to play on teams matching their birth gender.

Driving the news: “Of course, men should not play girls' sports. OK, we all agree there," Kelly said in the ad, before pivoting to attacking Republican Derek Schmidt for supporting spending cuts to public education.

Why it matters: Kelly's rhetoric aims to defuse the issue with swing voters.

  • But as governor, she vetoed GOP-backed legislation, citing the potential harm to students and risk of boycotts from businesses looking to come to Kansas. Her campaign site has a petition up opposing the Republican proposal as "hateful, discriminatory legislation [that] has no place in Kansas."
  • One day after releasing the ad, Kelly clarified in an interview with the Kansas City Star that she believes transgender athletes' participation in women's sports should be considered on a "case-by-case basis." She also said that her ad was only "talking about a male over the age of 18" who wants to compete with girls.
  • A May Washington Post poll found 30% support for and 55% opposition to transgender women and girls being allowed to compete in high school sports with other women and girls.

Details: The Republican Governors Association fired the first salvo last week, airing an ad featuring University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who lost a national match to transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. "If Laura Kelly can't protect women, she shouldn't be governor of Kansas," Gaines says in the ad.

Between the lines: Before the pivot to cultural issues, Schmidt, Kelly's GOP opponent, struggled to get traction in the race with an economic-centered pitch around grocery taxes.

  • Democrats have been tying Schmidt to unpopular former GOP Gov. Sam Brownback, whose tax cuts in office led to significant cuts in government programs.
  • An Emerson College survey, conducted between Sept. 15-18, found Kelly and Schmidt in a statistical tie (45% to 43%).
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