TOPEKA, (KSNT) — 2022 was a year packed with historic political moments in Kansas. That includes a Primary vote on abortion rights that garnered national attention and a Midterm Election that put Democrats and Republicans to the test.
Here are 10 of the top political moments in the state in 2022.
Kansans uphold abortion rights
Abortion took center stage this year, after the fall of Roe v. Wade. Kansas was the first state to hold a critical vote, deciding the future of abortion rights.
Nearly 60% of Kansas voters voted to reject a constitutional amendment on the Primary ballot, which would have given lawmakers the power to potentially pass more restrictions or limits on the procedure.
After backlash from supporters of the amendment and a last-minute recount, the Primary vote count was confirmed, upholding the constitutional right to abortion in the state.
Another amendment: Sheriffs fight back
Long-winded and sometimes confusing ballot questions didn’t end in the Primary. Amendments appearing on the November ballot also had some voters wondering what their vote actually meant.
One of the amendments, which passed this year, was HCR 5022. It came down to who has the power to push an elected sheriff out of office, and, if local counties can choose to have a sheriff at all.
Riley County is the only county in the state without a sheriff, after consolidating with the city of Manhattan to have one law enforcement agency – Riley County Police. In the state’s other 104 counties – sheriff’s are elected by the people.
The amendment prevents counties from completely eliminating or merging their sheriff’s office with another law enforcement agency, like a local police department. It also prevents local prosecutors from ousting a sheriff, leaving the process to the Attorney General’s Office or a public vote. A majority of Kansas voters approved the amendment in November.
Kelly-Schmidt State Fair Debate
The battle for the next Kansas Governor came to a head at the first debate of the election season.
Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly faced off with Republican nominee Derek Schmidt at the Kansas State Fair, proving to be one of the most heated exchanges between the two candidates.
Schmidt slammed Kelly over her handling of the pandemic, and the status of the state’s economy. However, Kelly fired back, touting a list of accomplishments, which included receiving “trophy after trophy” for economic development.
Kelly’s rebuttal ended in applause, after she asked Schmidt about his opinion on Sam Brownback’s leadership, hinting at a failed tax experiment. She delivered, what later became, a notorious tagline.
Political mud-slinging, drag shows, trans athletes and more
Political mud-slinging is sometimes thrown in the mix, during an election year, and the 2022 Midterm was not an exception.
Campaigns and political parties found new ways to take jabs at the opposing side, using creative political ads.
Democrats took aim at Republican gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt, launching an interactive website ahead of the Primary. The party doubled down on their push to tie both figures to the shortfalls of former Governor Sam Brownback’s administration, citing his failed tax experiment.
National and state GOP groups also attacked democratic Governor Laura Kelly for refusing to pass a bill banning transgender athletes from women sports. The Governor later released an ad, saying that “men should not play girls sports,” which some Republicans pointed to as a sign that the governor was backtracking her prior stance and lying about her record.
Toward the end of the campaign season, Schmidt held a press conference accusing the Governor’s administration of sponsoring drag shows with taxpayer dollars. The Governor, her administration and her campaign said the claims were “not true.”
Kelly wins Re-election, Kobach makes comeback
After a whirlwind election season, there were some surprise wins from some highly contentious races in the state. Republican Kris Kobach made a political comeback, securing a seat as the next Attorney General.
Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly also won a second term, defeating Republican Derek Schmidt in a tight race.
Both Kobach and Kelly narrowly defeated their opponents. However, the margin was even larger for one of the most watched Congressional races in the state.
Democratic U.S. Representative Sharice Davids defeated Republican Amanda Adkins by nearly 12 percentage points, despite having to campaign in a new congressional district.
Based on the 2022 Midterm results, some political experts argue that the state may be leaning more “purple” than “red.”
Sports betting legalized, wrapped in controversy
Kansas took a monumental step to legalize sports betting, and rushed to get the system up and running within just a few months.
However, a New York Times Investigation released in November shined a light on how sports betting legislation in the state was passed. The investigation indicated that lawmakers may have been influenced by sports gambling lobbyists to pass a plan that may not be in the best interest of the state.
The state cut from sports betting is set at 10% under the current plan, generating far less revenue than states like New York, which have set their tax cut at 51%.
There have been discussions from some state leaders to revisit the plan, and determine whether the state got a good deal.
Medical marijuana comeback
Kansas lawmakers could take a major step toward marijuana reform in 2023.
Democrats and Republicans formed a special committee to work on a medical marijuana bill ahead of the 2023 legislative session.
While the bill has passed the House chamber in the past, Republican Senate President Ty Masterson has said that medical marijuana is not a legislative priority.
Senator Rob Olson, who is spearheading efforts to draft the bill, said he [doesn’t know] where the bill will end up, but he does intend to introduce a plan.
DCF backlash grows
The Kansas Department of Children and Families has been in the spotlight after several complaints from foster care families.
One of the incidents involving a foster family in Gardner, prompted lawmakers in the state’s Child Welfare committee to hold a press conference, decrying “lies” and “inconsistencies” with the state’s foster care system.
The controversy surrounded the Gardner family’s ongoing battle with Cornerstones of Care, a non-profit organization in the Kansas City area.
Nicole and John Dehaven, who are contracted as foster parents through Cornerstones of Care, recounted the roadblocks they’ve encountered in trying to adopt their three-year-old foster daughter, who has been with them since within days of her birth.
The DeHaven’s daughter is part of a sibling set of eight.
In an interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau, another foster parent, Jackie Schooler from Tonganoxie, came forward with similar complaints. Schooler detailed her struggles with advocating for her foster children, who are also part of the sibling set.
Suellentrop steps down
Kansas Senator Gene Suellentrop, who made headlines, after being caught speeding down the wrong side of the highway in 2021, will not be returning to the Legislature in 2023.
The Republican from Wichita was sentenced to serve 2 days in jail and 12 months of probation for a DUI and reckless driving, but was released early, according to records obtained by Kansas Capitol Bureau.
In November, Suellentrop, who has served in the Senate since 2017, notified Senate Leadership in an email about his plans to leave office on January 2, 2023, a spokesman for Leadership confirmed.
KHP lawsuits, Gov. stands by Leader
Multiple lawsuits against the Kansas Highway Patrol moved forward earlier this year. Former troopers broke their silence, after claiming that they were wrongfully fired from the agency.
Sean McCauley, an attorney who represented a couple of troopers, who filed lawsuits claiming retaliation from the department, said it’s been a “common theme” in prior cases, where troopers “speak out” against Superintendent Colonel Herman Jones.
The Kansas State Troopers Association has called for Governor Laura Kelly to remove Colonel Herman Jones from his leadership position.
However, in an exclusive television interview with Kansas Capitol Bureau, Kelly defended Jones’ position as Superintendent.