Embracing the fighter

Next week, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Republican gubernatorial nominee, will campaign with arguably the most famous Republican governor in the country — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The two will appear at an Embassy Suites in Olathe on September 18 in an event hosted by Turning Point USA, a conservative group that describes themselves as playing “offense with a sense of urgency to win America’s culture war.”

It’s unusual for a governor to campaign in other states when he faces reelection in his own state in just two months. But DeSantis is hardly the usual governor — he is a rising star in the Republican Party with national ambition.

DeSantis drew publicity during the pandemic by reopening Florida’s economy — which depends heavily on tourism — much earlier than other states in the country and at a time when people were still learning about how COVID-19 spread. Florida opened its beaches to the public in May 2020 in a decision that received some backlash (including a man who dressed up like the grim reaper to denounce it), even though it later turned out that beaches were among the safer places for people to gather.

It helped him build support among Republicans, particularly those looking for politicians who are willing to pick a fight with liberals. He continued picking fights, getting attention for a bill that bans public school teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity with students from kindergarten to third grade, and allows parents to sue school districts if they feel that teachers are discussing the issues in a way that isn’t “age-appropriate” in higher grades.

Opponents of the bill expressed concern that teachers will be unable to mention their spouse or that they won’t be able to acknowledge if a student has two moms or two dads.

The law, particularly the Republican defense of the law, contributed to a rise in LGBTQ people being called “groomers,” a word that implies adults are conditioning children in order to molest them.

DeSantis more recently grabbed headlines for sending a plane of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, part of a larger effort by Republican governors in states along the southern border to make a political point about Democratic-controlled states’ rhetoric on how to handle immigration issues (Massachusetts has a Republican governor, but a Democratic controlled legislature).

The practice echoes a movement in the 1960s, where southern segregationists made false promises to trick Black people to move from the South to the North in what were called Reverse Freedom Rides.

At the National Conservatism Conference last weekend, a conference that focuses on a group that has been described as the new intellectual branch of the Republican Party, DeSantis was among the keynote speakers. He’s one of the few Republicans that is drawing a large share of Republican support from former President Donald Trump in early surveys of the GOP primary for president in 2024. (Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley, another name mentioned as a potential candidate, spoke at the same conference this year and his speech was about how the Bible influenced America’s founding).

A big factor in DeSantis’ appeal comes from the way he has wielded political power.

Because he is in an executive role, he has more power than someone like Hawley, who is in the minority party among a group of 100 people trying to make laws.

That power has allowed him to position himself as someone who won’t back down from a fight. When Disney objected to Florida’s law banning classroom discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity, DeSantis went after one of the state’s largest attractions and got the legislature to pass a bill taking away their special taxation status. His decision to send immigrants to Massachusetts is seen as sticking it to “the libs.”

To a large faction of the Republican Party that elected Trump because of his promises to disrupt the status quo in Washington, D.C., DeSantis is seen as a younger, slicker and less scandal-plagued model of that brand of brash politics.

It remains to be seen how much Schmidt will be influenced by DeSantis’ approach. Already, he has leaned into some of the culture war issues that have come to define the DeSantis administration in Florida. Earlier this month, he promised that one of his early priorities would be banning transgender women from playing in Kansas public school sports leagues that match their gender identity.

More from Missouri

The second day of Missouri’s special session on taxes lasted only 30 minutes, as Republican lawmakers have been unable to find consensus on Gov. Mike Parson’s plan to cut income taxes. Parson wants a permanent income tax cut, lowering it from the current 5.3% to 4.8%, while eliminating the bottom tax bracket entirely. Other lawmakers have different ideas, which they will mull over until they gavel back in next week.

Here are headlines from across the state:

And across Kansas

Days after Gov. Laura Kelly took office, she declared that Kansas’ foster care system was in crisis. While her administration has moved the system towards improvement, they still haven’t reached the final destination. Kansas has one of the highest percentages of kids who run away from foster care and the system has not been able to cut back the number of missing children from the program.

The latest from Kansas City

In Kansas City …

Have a news tip? Send it along to ddesrochers@kcstar.com

Odds and ends

Schmitt fundraiser

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt took a trip to the capital this week, where he participated in a fundraiser co-hosted by Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley and attended the Senate Republican Conference’s weekly lunch.

It was possibly his first exposure to the inner workings of the Senate Republicans in D.C. Schmitt has said he believes there should be a new leader for the Republican Party in the Senate — something former President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for — and a McConnell aligned group spent millions helping Schmitt get elected by attacking former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens. While he attended a lunch where U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was present, there is no indication that he met privately with McConnell.

It’s unclear how much money Schmitt raised during the trip. He is a heavy favorite to win the U.S. Senate race in Missouri, to the point where Kansas City Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who is optimistic about Democrats’ chances in November, said that if Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine wins, it will mean the election was a “shellacking” in the Democratic Party’s favor.

Davids dances

Kansas Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids played in the Congressional Softball Game on Wednesday, an annual game between members of Congress and the congressional press corps. For the first time since 2015, the politicians won, though the real winners were cancer patients — the game raised more than $540,000 to Young Survival Coalition.

After the game, there was a celebration. Davids was recorded dancing to what sounds like Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” with Republican Reps. Kat Cammack, from Florida, and Stephanie Bice, from Oklahoma. Here’s the video. Was uploading it to social media payback from sore losers in the press? You decide!

Don’t worry though, that same night our nerds won the National Press Club’s press vs. politicians spelling bee.

*Reminder: Vanilla Ice is not taking sides on political issues and is working to support his family. Please make it known.

In ‘80s country singer news

Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall’s office announced this week that he won the Lee Greenwood Patriot Award, along with former Kansas City Royal George Brett and country music artist Tate Stevens.

The award, named after the Republican Party’s favorite country music singer, is a partnership with the organization Helping a Hero. The Texas-based group partners with wounded veterans to help them buy homes that are adapted and designed to help maintain their independence.

More than 40 people have gotten the Lee Greenwood Patriot Award, which is given to people who support veterans. The list includes former President Donald Trump, Paula Deen and Roger Clemons.

Greenwood has received a kind of icon status among a certain set of middle-aged to older Republican men, largely based on the popularity of his song God Bless the U.S.A. which is frequently featured at Republican rallies. Last year, Greenwood sang the song at former Sen. Bob Dole’s funeral at the Washington National Cathedral.

Voter guide questions

For the August primary, our team at The Star sent surveys to every candidate on the ballot to create guides for both Missouri and Kansas voters. We’re doing the same thing for the general election now, and we want to know: What should we be asking candidates to weigh in on? What issues do you want to hear their takes on before you head to the polls?

Let us know by responding to this email, emailing kcq@kcstar or filling out this form. If you want a refresher of what’s all going to be on the November ballot, you can check that out here, and then send your questions. And, we’d love if you shared the form with friends who may also have questions.

Birthday boy

Kacen Bayless, the Star’s Missouri politics reporter, celebrated his 26th birthday on Thursday. He is both very good at his job and younger than me, which is, quite frankly, rude. Wish him a happy birthday at kbayless@kcstar.com, an email address also good for receiving all your Missouri political secrets.

Happy Friday

Read this story about fog. I was at a bar recently and the bartender was very annoyed when a table of 22-year-olds ordered a round of green tea shots. James Taylor performed at the White House ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden and played this song.

Enjoy your weekend.

Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent
Daniel Desrochers is the Star’s Washington, D.C. Correspondent

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