Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s gubernatorial campaign unsuccessfully sought the removal of a media member set to question candidates during the upcoming Kansas State Fair debate over social media posts she made earlier this year.
A letter dated Thursday from the parent company WIBW Radio, which organizes and broadcasts the traditional debate at the state fair, said Schmidt’s campaign reached out earlier this week to request the removal of Jennifer Latzke, editor of Kansas Farmer.
“In the 40+ years WIBW Radio has produced these debates, we have never removed a panelist for their beliefs or party affiliation, and we have never had a candidate walk away from a debate due to a panelist they did not agree with,” wrote Larry Riggins, marketing manager for Alpha Media. “We won’t start that practice in this election year.”
Schmidt, a Republican, and incumbent Gov. Laura Kelly are set to square off in the state fair debate Saturday, a biannual endeavor that is generally regarded as one of the focal points of the election cycle.
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Media members are enlisted to ask a range of questions. Riggins said all of Latzke’s questions would pertain to agriculture.
But Riggins said Schmidt’s campaign pointed to a series of tweets from mid-July through August that they believe would affect Latzke’s objectivity, with Riggins saying Schmidt’s staff called her a “far-left liberal hack.”
While most of her posts center on Kansas agriculture, others include retweets of posts by Kansans for Constitutional Freedom and the ACLU of Kansas during the debate over a proposed abortion amendment to the Kansas Constitution.
Both of those groups opposed the amendment, though the tweets were about voting access rather than the content of the amendment.
An additional tweet from Latzke referenced an Ohio bill to ban in vitro fertilization and some contraception and said she was voting in the amendment election because “there is ZERO guarantee this couldn’t be similarly introduced in Kansas in six months.”
Additional tweets include a post critical of U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall for a vote against a bill aiding veterans exposed to toxic burn pits, a post that appeared to criticize the tax-exempt status of churches, responses to a tweets criticizing former President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and a 2015 tweet where Latzke said the GOP platform was akin to a quote from the Blues Brothers movie: “We’re on a mission from God.”
CJ Grover, Schmidt’s campaign manager, declined comment on the matter.
Organizers say they believe reporter is professional
Riggins, however, said a review of Latzke’s posts found nothing that implicated either candidate or the governor’s race and that she had participated in past debates, including the 2020 debate for U.S. Senate, without issue.
Latzke’s biography on the website for Kansas Farmer Magazine says she has worked in Kansas agricultural journalism since 2000 and has been recognized by a variety of groups, including the Kansas Press Association.
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Riggins said WIBW Radio believed Latzke to be “professional” and the request to remove her “goes against what we as a nation should cherish the most, freedom of speech and the ability to ask questions of our leaders, giving voters insight into who they believe will better serve their needs.”
The Schmidt campaign has said they will continue to participate in the debate as scheduled, though Riggins said if they elected not to appear, Kelly would have answered questions alone or independent candidate state Sen. Dennis Pyle could have been included.
In a statement, Kelly campaign spokesperson Lauren Fitzgerald said they were “disappointed” Schmidt’s campaign would seek Latzke’s removal.
“Governor Kelly looks forward to answering any questions the media panel may have because Kansans deserve to know where these candidates stand on ag issues and hopes Derek Schmidt will stop using his campaign to attack nonpartisan voices in Southwest Kansas agriculture,” Fitzgerald said.
Showdowns between campaigns and debate organizers have cropped up in the 2022 midterms.
A reporter for the Arizona Republic, for instance, was removed from moderating a debate in that state at the behest of GOP nominee Kari Lake.
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In addition to the state fair debate, Kelly and Schmidt are also set to meet in October in a debate sponsored by the Johnson County Bar Association. Schmidt has criticized Kelly for not responding to additional invitations for three other potential debates.
Andrew Bahl is a senior statehouse reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com or by phone at 443-979-6100.
This article originally appeared on Topeka Capital-Journal: Derek Schmidt’s campaign for governor sought debate moderator removal