Former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer on Monday officially started his campaign to recapture the governor’s office with a helping hand from U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall.
Colyer kicked off his campaign for governor at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka with an endorsement from Marshall, a fellow physician.
Colyer endorsed Marshall in the U.S. Senate primary last year. Colyer said his endorsement of Marshall was not dependent on receiving one in return.
Colyer called on Kansas to be a “pro-life state” with low taxes and limited government regulations that doesn’t close businesses.
Colyer, 60, is seeking to make up for a stinging defeat to former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the 2018 Republican primary for governor.
Colyer lost to Kobach by 343 votes, or by less than a fraction of a pecentage point in a race that took days to settle as provisional ballots were counted.
“Kansas voters want a governor who will actually bring about real change,” Colyer said.
“I am the only candidate in this race with a consistent record of conservative accomplishments,” he said.
He called on Republicans to unite behind “the one candidate who cannot only win in November but will actually enact conservative policies.”
Colyer now faces Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who was the first Republican candidate to announce a campaign for governor.
It’s unclear who else might join the race, which is still more than a year away.
Wichita oilman Wink Hartman also has expressed an interest in running.
“I am the conservative in this race,” Colyer declared. “There’s no question about that.”
Schmidt responded by portraying Colyer as a political retread after serving as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Sam Brownback and later for a year as governor when Brownback joined President Donald Trump’s administration.
“Kansas Republicans need to move forward, not return to the failures of 2018 when our incumbent governor was too weak to keep the nomination of our own party, much less stop Laura Kelly,” Schmidt said in a statement.
“The stakes are too high to risk losing again in 2022. I’m the only proven winner in this race — the only trusted leader Kansans can count on to defeat Governor Kelly and bring common sense and conservative leadership for our state.”
Schmidt added that he respected Marshall for “keeping his pledge, made in the heat of last year’s U.S. Senate primary, to swap endorsements with Jeff.”
“After all, a deal’s a deal.”
Schmidt has already been endorsed by National Republican Committeewoman Helen Van Etten and Mary Alice Lair, the first woman to chair the Kansas Republican Party.
“I’ve been here all along fighting for conservative values and actually getting them done,” Colyer said.
Colyer sidestepped a question about how Schmidt might be less conservative.
“I’ll let him explain his stance,” he said.
“I think there’s going to be a clear difference between how we’ve approached things historically, currently and in the future.”
Colyer focused most of his attention on Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, criticizing her for limiting attendance at religious events during the pandemic, prioritizing prisoners for COVID-19 vaccines while closing businesses but keeping abortion clinics open.
“We must have a governor that respects the freedom provided to citizens in our Constitution,” he said.
“We must have a governor that won’t shut down our way of life or impose never-ending restrictions on small businesses,” he said.
Colyer also citicized the governor for her recent veto of a tax bill that would give up about $284 million in revenue but he described as “common-sense tax reform that would benefit every single Kansan.”
“That is not who we are,” Colyer said. “We must get Kansas back on track.”
Colyer said he would have signed the tax bill the governor vetoed last week.
The Kelly campaign sent out a fundraising email on Monday, saying that Colyer would return the state to the Brownback era.
“The last thing Kansans want or need is a return to the disastrous leadership that brought our state to its knees,” Kelly campaign said in the email.
“Colyer has already made it clear he’ll say and spend whatever it takes to defeat Laura, so we’re fighting back with everything we have, the email stated.
He also said he would sign the bill banning transgender girls and women from participating in interscholastic sports for females.
He also vowed to oppose Medicaid expansion.
“We need to be a pro-life state, one that follows our Constitution,” he said.
“We need have a state that has pro-growth economic policies where our tax rates are low, that our regulations are low, that we’re not closing down businesses and starting all sorts of restrictions on small businesses.”
Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty said Colyer has a tough balancing act ahead of him.
“He has to thread the needle of not being associated with the negatives of the Brownback era but being strongly associated with the positives.
“The positives may be greater in a primary,” he said. “We should never underestimate the difference between a general and a Republican primary election.”
Beatty said it was smart for Colyer to focus more on raising money than going on the offensive against Schmidt.
“He’s going to have to wait until when people are really paying attention, and that’s a long way down the road,” he said.
While Kelly has struggled with the Republican-controlled Legislature over taxes, abortion, pandemic regulations and troubles at the Labor Department, her reelection shouldn’t be written off, Beatty said.
With signs pointing toward an economic explosion as the country emerges from the pandemic, Kelly could be well positioned for reelection, he said.
“What she has going for her ironically is what Colyer says he has going for him, which is time,” he said.
“This time next year, there is some indication the economy could be absolutely booming,” he said.
“That is a good thing for an incumbent to run on regardless of party,” he said.