TOPEKA — GOP mailers flooding Kansas mailboxes across the state in the last push before Election Day are focusing on crime.
Some Kansans have called the mailer contents blatant lies and a form of fearmongering that follows national GOP election tactics.
Republican candidates are accusing Democratic opponents of increasing crime and wanting to defund the police, stirring up voter fears ahead of the election by using the COVID-19 pandemic crime spike in 2019-2020, though crime has decreased in the past year.
Rep. Heather Meyer, an Overland Park Democrat, is running for reelection against Republican David Soffer. Meyer has represented her district for about a year, replacing former Democratic Rep. Brett Parker in September 2021.
One mailer funded by the Kansas Republican Party claimed Meyer was “fueling the Kansas crime surge,” saying Kansas families lived in fear of rising violent crimes in Kansas. Other information on the mailer said that Kansas was named one of the most dangerous states in the U.S. and that Kansas’ overall violent crime rate is higher than the average.
Meyer said the mailer was filled with false information, and showed the Kansas GOP’s lack of principles.
“The Kansas GOP and my opponent have continued to send out slanderous mailers which are not only filled with misinformation, but also lack integrity, any sense of ethical responsibility to our constituency, and put my family in danger,” Meyer said in a statement to the Kansas Reflector.
“Everyday we read more headlines about the violent crime in Kansas on the rise, and all of us wonder the same thing: ‘Will it strike my family next?’ ” the mailer read.
But 2021 data released by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation actually shows a decrease in overall crime in Kansas. The total crime index documents the number of crimes per 1,000 people. In 2021, total index crimes decreased 9.2% from the 10-year average, and 6.9% from the previous year.
The number of violent index crimes was 17.9% above the 10-year average, but decreased 2.1% compared to 2020. In 2021, the rate of violent crimes in Kansas was about 4.6 offenses per 1,000 people. Compared to 2020, the murder rate decreased 10.4%, rape decreased by 0.3% and robbery decreased by 17.9%.
The mailer said Kansans couldn’t trust Meyer to keep them safe, and that she was “endorsed by a radical group that called for defunding the police.” The radical group referenced is the Kansas National Education Association.
Marcus Baltzell, director of communications for the KNEA, said this was a lie. The KNEA has never considered supporting defunding the police, he said.
“It’s patently absurd. We wonder who’s not doing their research over there, because we have never as an organization called for defunding the police,” Baltzell said. “I can’t even say that they’re obfuscating the truth. They just are not interested in the truth, apparently.”
When asked about the defunding police statement, Shannon Pahls, Kansas GOP spokeswoman, referenced a June 2020 letter sent to congressional leaders by a civil rights coalition. The letter doesn’t say anything about defunding the police, instead asking for greater police accountability in the wake of several racially biased police killings. The letter was signed by the National Education Association, not the Kansas chapter.
“That letter advocates for the elimination of federal programs that provide resources to law enforcement,” Pahls said, referencing a section that asked lawmakers to get rid of federal programs that provide military-grade equipment to law enforcement.
“Heather Meyer registered to vote as a socialist and has embraced some of the most extreme policies of the Democrat Party,” Pahls said in a statement to Kansas Reflector. “She has welcomed the support of groups who have advocated for defunding our police. This is not surprising given that she registered as a socialist, but her views are far outside the mainstream.”
Meyer said GOP rhetoric is used to distract voters from real issues.
“It’s deeply unsettling that they are so afraid of discussing policy and what we will do for our communities, that they will resort to smear tactics and violent rhetoric, instead of telling voters where they stand and what they’ll do,” Meyer said.
Republicans at national and local levels have used crime and economic inflation as rallying points of their voters, turning public conversation away from reproductive rights issues that galvanized Kansas voters, particularly women, into action during the August vote.
Baltzell said he hopes Kansans voters can see through Republican rhetoric.
“They are lying to their voters, plain and simple,” Baltzell said.
Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.