Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed bills barring male-born athletes from female sports not once but twice, a pair of decisions coming back to haunt the Democrat in her reelection bid as the transgender issue surges to the forefront.
Faced with GOP attacks on the issue, Ms. Kelly declared in an ad last week that “men should not compete in girls’ sports,” drawing fact-checks by local media outlets and accusations of revisionist history by Republicans.
“Governor Kelly is wrong to oppose the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act and she’s wrong to mislead Kansans about her real position in her television ad,” tweeted Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, the Republican nominee for governor.
The Republican Governors Association called out the governor in an ad Tuesday saying that “Laura Kelly’s actions speak louder than her words. She chose the radical transgender agenda.”
Ms. Kelly explained the disconnect by emphasizing age rather than sex, saying that she was referring to adult men competing against minor girls, and reiterating her position that transgender athletes should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“The ad that I put out was to respond to the misleading attacks that my opponent has put out that I favor letting men play in girls’ sports,” Ms. Kelly told the Kansas City Star editorial board. “I have never said that.”
She vetoed Fairness in Women’s Sports bills in 2021 and 2022 that would have banned biological male athletes from participating in K-12 girls’ sports, arguing that the measures would “undoubtedly harm our ability to attract and retain businesses.”
Ms. Kelly also said that such decisions should be left up to the Kansas State High School Activities Association, the state’s governing board.
“We already have a structure in place, the NCAA has a structure in place, to deal with issues like this on a one-by-one basis, and I don’t think there’s any other way that you can really deal with this,” Ms. Kelly said in the Friday interview.
RGA spokesperson Joanna Rodriguez fired back that “Democrat Laura Kelly isn’t going to get away with lying to voters, especially while her record and actions show she’s clearly prioritizing a radical transgender agenda in Kansas.”
“Kelly had the chance to stand for parents and students and twice turned her back on them, and you can bet she’ll do it again if Kansans don’t vote her out in November,” she said in a Tuesday statement.
The Kansas race offers perhaps this year’s clearest test of how the debate over inclusion and fairness in girls’ and women’s sports is playing out with the voters.
Ms. Kelly is running neck-and-neck with Mr. Schmidt, who has promised to sign a bill protecting same-sex female sports. An Emerson College/The Hill poll released Sept. 21 showed the governor leading by 45% to 43%, with 8% undecided.
The association launched the first salvo earlier this month with an ad featuring former University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who competed against University of Pennsylvania transgender freestyler Lia Thomas at the NCAA women’s championships in March.
“I was forced to share a locker room with a biological man. It was uncomfortable and it was wrong,” Ms. Gaines said in the ad. “In the pool, he claimed a trophy that a woman had earned. This has to stop. Laura Kelly vetoed laws to protect women and girls in sports, not once, but twice. If Laura Kelly can’t protect women, she shouldn’t be governor of Kansas.”
Thomas Witt, Equality Kansas executive director, accused the RGA of dissembling, saying that they “keep saying that Gov. Kelly supports men competing against girls.”
“There is no state in this country where men compete against girls,” Mr. Witt said. “This is RGA scare-tactic BS. There are kids competing against each other, but there are no men playing kickball with five-year-olds, and that’s what the RGA and all the anti-LGBT organizations in this state have been pushing.”
Eighteen states have passed laws barring biological males from female sports, but such measures have also been vetoed in several states by governors from both parties.
“The bills that I vetoed were discriminatory,” Ms. Kelly said. “They were also designed by politicians. If this had come from the Kansas High School Activities Association, which is the governing body for sports in our schools, I would have addressed it differently.”