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GOP gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt stops in GB
Attorney General seeking GOP nomination for governor
Derek Schmidt
Derek Schmidt

Following a tour of Great Bend’s Fuller Industries, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt stopped at the Great Bend Tribune offices Monday afternoon to discuss his run for the 2022 Republican nomination for governor, as well as pressing policy and crime issues facing the state of Kansas.

Schmidt, who has served as Attorney General since 2011, said he decided to run for governor because he feels current leadership has failed Kansas citizens.

“I think the state can do better,” Schmidt said. “I think there’s a lot of opportunity to fine tune state services.”

One of his chief concerns is the economic direction the state has taken over the last decade, particularly in what he sees as an unhealthy rise in government spending at the state level. The state’s $21 billion in spending this fiscal year is up $6 billion a year from a decade ago, he noted.

“That’s not a sustainable path,” Schmidt said. “I think having an honest conversation with Kansans about living within our means is a critical task for whoever the chief executive is.”

He expressed concern over the perception particularly among young Kansans that the state is not growing, causing many younger Kansans to seek opportunities in other states. While there is no one magic answer to improving the state’s growth, he said, the state’s leaders must be focused on creating an environment that draws young people to remain in rural Kansas communities.

In a state with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, Schmidt believes the best role for the state government is to promote strong local leadership in all avenues. In a diverse state, a one-size-fits-all approach to government will not work.

“Every community that has a potentially bright future has local leaders with purpose,” Schmidt said. “Sometimes they’re in public office, sometimes they’re in business, sometimes they’re in civic clubs, sometimes they’re citizens with no particular official role.

“You can feel an energy in a community that knows it has a future and is willing to work on that.”

Schmidt, a native of Independence in southeast Kansas, feels his small-town background gives him a unique insight into what it takes to strengthen and support rural communities.

“My parents were small business owners; my grandparents farmed,” he said. “I think the value of a hard day’s work and honesty with other people is fundamental for me, and I think for most Kansans.”

Leadership disconnect

Schmidt said he believes current leadership in Kansas is disconnected with the will of the majority of Kansans.

“We’ve seen decisions come from the governor’s office that I just don’t think are in tune with where most Kansans are,” he said.

In particular, he feels recent decisions made by Gov. Laura Kelly make clear she is out of touch with conservative values he feels the majority of Kansans hold on a variety of issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to transgender participation in sports, and many others.

Schmidt believes the COVID-19 crisis magnified failures by the executive branch to address other pressing issues in Kansas, particularly with an unemployment system he described as “archaic,” leading the state to lose hundreds of millions of dollars to fraud. He feels the system was in dire need of an upgrade prior to COVID-19, and the spike in demand the crisis brought on exposed those glaring holes in the system and made Kansas a particular target.

He said the failure in prevention was critical, because many of the perpetrators were overseas, leaving the cases outside of the state’s jurisdiction to prosecute.

He also feels leadership decisions at the federal level do not reflect the values and priorities of Kansans. One of his goals as both attorney general, and hopefully as governor, is to prevent federal overreach, and allow Kansans the opportunity to decide for themselves what is best for the state.

As attorney general, Schmidt said he has been part of several successful legal challenges with the Supreme Court to federal policies which he believes are outside of the federal government’s authority.

Marijuana legalization and victim advocacy

While Schmidt does not personally favor the legalization of marijuana, he recognizes the trend toward legalization in surrounding states, and said in a democratic republic, the will of the majority will ultimately prevail.

His priority, he said, is to make sure Kansans are fully informed on the repercussions of the decisions they make on the issue.

“These decisions are not without cost,” Schmidt said. “There’s a reason we encourage fewer people, not more, to be chemically altered when they’re operating in our society.”

He said his viewpoint on the issue is not simply philosophical, but practical.

“Many people who are innocent get hurt by people whose behavior is influenced by chemical substances,” he noted. “I am hopeful that Kansas will not rush down that road.”

Along those lines, he said, he believes it is crucial to be a strong advocate of crime victims, which has been a priority of his in every public service role.

In particular, he sees crimes against elders, including fraud and abuse, and crimes against children as growing issues that he hopes to continue to address as governor.

“Those are areas that I think Kansans just expect to be done well, and that’s a philosophy I try bring to everywhere I’m allowed to serve,” he said.