More than two dozen current and former Kansas Republican lawmakers Friday followed in footsteps of former Gov. Bill Graves by endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly for governor, inspiring a rival's denunciation of "Republicans in name only."
Kelly's campaign has recruited GOP members to broaden the Topeka state senator's appeal across party lines and undercut both Republican Kris Kobach and independent Greg Orman.
Some members of the group of 27 Republicans joining Kelly also endorsed Democrat Paul Davis in the 2014 campaign won by incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican. In both contests, dissident Republicans expressed common ground on issues of health care, education, jobs and the economy.
Former Senate President Dick Bond, a Johnson County Republican, said Kelly was committed to working on bipartisan solutions to state government's financial challenges.
"Kris Kobach wants to repeat the Brownback experiment we fought so hard to end," Bond said. "He will take those dangerous policies even further and devastate Kansas."
Former Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm, who replaced Robert Dole in the U.S. Senate, said a proposal put forth by Kobach to restore the 2012 income tax exemption given more than 300,000 business owners and drop individual income taxes could once again jeopardize health of the state's budget. In addition to tax cuts, Kobach said he would slash spending.
The Brownback-era tax reforms contributed to a steep drop in state revenue and years of budget turmoil. Much of that tax program was repealed in 2017 over Brownback's veto.
"I’ve known Laura for a long time. I worked with her to end the Brownback experiment. She will bring Kansans together to rebuild our state," Frahm said.
Danedri Herbert, spokeswoman for Kobach, who has served as a GOP secretary of state since 2011, said GOP members declaring loyalty to Kelly were "Republicans in name only who always support Democrats in major races."
"Others are Topeka insiders who are worried that the Kobach administration will end the culture of corruption that has been so profitable to them," Herbert said. "They know that a Kobach administration will shake up the establishment and they are part of that establishment."
The gubernatorial campaign of independent Rick Kloos, of Berryton, said moderate Republicans unhappy with the major party options should consider an independent or third-party candidate.
"Why should moderate Republicans consider Rick? Rick Kloos is a pro-life, pro-education candidate with a proven record of leadership as a nonprofit business owner and a pastor," said Kloos spokesman Rick Parsons.
Libertarian candidate Jeff Caldwell said endorsements for Kelly reflected "the same song and dance that has been ruling Topeka politics for as long as we can remember" and Republican politicians campaigning for Kelly didn't represent average Kansans.
Graves, governor of the state from 1995 until 2003, last week publicly endorsed Kelly. Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the Democrat who followed Graves as governor, is working on behalf of Kelly.
Others on Kelly's expanded endorsement list were former Lt. Gov. Gary Sherrer, Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger, Senate President Dave Kerr, Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, Senate Majority Leader Tim Emert and Senate Vice President John Vratil.
A spokesman for Orman, a Fairway businessman and political independent who has state Sen. John Doll, I-Garden City, as his running mate, said the endorsements of Kelly were anticipated.
"The Topeka establishment supporting the Topeka establishment is a surprise to nobody," said Orman spokesman Nick Conners.
Former Sen. Wint Winter Jr., who also signed on for Kelly, said he backed Orman's campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014, but decided Kelly had the best opportunity to defeat Kobach in November. Winter said Orman's candidacy was helping Kobach.
"I have a message for Greg. Kansans know Kris Kobach is a terrifying prospect for our state — worse than Sam Brownback in so many ways. Greg should not risk the future of our state to advance his political goals," Winter said.