Politics & Government

GOP mailers: Watch for new ISIS ‘neighbors’ in Kansas

GOP mailer.
GOP mailer.

The Kansas Republican Party is sending out mailers in legislative races around the state depicting ISIS fighters and explosions from terrorist attacks.

A mailer going to homes in east Wichita’s House District 88 shows an ISIS fighter holding a machine gun with a message that reads: “Have you met the new neighbors?”

The other side of the mailer touts Republican Rep. Joseph Scapa’s support for funding to train Kansas law enforcement officers to “recognize and deal with foreign and domestic threats to our state, from those who support ideologies that are in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and our Kansas values.”

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Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said similar mailers are being sent out around the state.

“We did polling and focus groups, and the one issue that got overwhelming positive response and was associated with Republicans was safety,” Barker said. “You know, Gitmo, that article that came out back in August that ISIS had named soldiers for assassinations, police being shot and those knuckleheads in Garden City, it all kind of added up to a security issue … the whole feeling that’s there violence out there. And it’s a positive issue for Republicans.”

The FBI thwarted a terror plot earlier this month in Garden City. Three white nationalists allegedly planned to detonate a bomb at an apartment complex that houses Somali Muslim refugees and serves as a mosque.

The one issue that got overwhelming positive response and was associated with Republicans was safety.

Clay Barker, Kansas Republican Party

The Republican mailer specifically depicts ISIS, the Islamic terror group that controls parts of Syria and Iraq.

Robert McCraw, director of government affairs for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., called the mailers “a shameful example of scare mongering tactics that I hope the Republican Party can learn to move away from.”

He said it was appalling for the state party “to falsely insinuate that the state’s Muslim population is linked to terror groups like ISIS.” Coming so soon after a thwarted terror attack on the state’s Muslim community, he said, “this flier verges on incitement of violence to Muslims.”

Barker pushed back at the idea that voters would interpret the “new neighbors” message on the mailer as a suggestion that Muslims living in Kansas posed a terror threat.

“No, it’s the Gitmo issue. People in Kansas are very aware of that,” Barker said. “Obama wants to bring these guys to Leavenworth. … The Republican Party took a stand very strongly against them coming here.”

The Republican-controlled Legislature has passed resolutions opposing the possible transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Fort Leavenworth.

Look at what happened in Garden City. I think it feeds into that.

Elizabeth Bishop, Democratic 88th District candidate

Barker said there are several variations of the mailers. One depicts an explosion from a terrorist attack.

“It’s one of the few (issues) that was a clear, like high 80 percent positive and associated with Republicans,” Barker said. “Most other issues are muddled, or this is not the year for Republicans to be arguing education or taxes because there’s a general feeling either Republicans aren’t effective or the voters aren’t quite sure who to believe.

“This one’s a clear hit. And I’m not saying it’s going to flip every race in Kansas, but it’s going to help.”

Barker also said the party is sending out mailers highlighting Republicans’ support for ousting four of the sitting Kansas Supreme Court justices, portraying Democrats who support retaining the justices as soft on crime.

Heather Scanlon, spokeswoman for the Kansas Democratic Party, said in an e-mail that the Republican Party “has absolutely no leg to stand on regarding public safety.”

“The Brownback administration and legislature have opened the door to guns on our college campuses, openly opposed keeping terrorists from buying guns, and underfunded public safety so severely that several counties didn’t have a single highway patrol person last year,” she said. “They are merely using political fear to cover up the fact that they are weak on the issues that are actually affecting Kansans.”

Scapa, who said he saw the mailer before it was sent out, focused his comments about the mailer more on refugees, who he says pose a potential security threat.

“We have people coming into our state from parts of the world who believe in ideologies that are incompatible with the United States Constitution and our Kansas values and that poses a threat,” Scapa said. “We know for a fact that we cannot vet the people that are coming into our state from other parts of the world … where they believe in ideologies that we don’t.”

Scapa’s opponent, Democrat Elizabeth Bishop, criticized the mail campaign.

“I had neighbors bring them over to me, and we’re pretty unanimously appalled,” Bishop said. “I think it’s indicative that my opponent has nothing else to say, nothing else to talk about. He certainly can’t defend his voting record.”

Bishop said the mailers could contribute to animosity toward Muslims in Wichita.

“Look at what happened in Garden City,” she said. “I think it feeds into that.”

Scapa said he is proud of his voting record and that if Bishop does not think terrorism is a major issue for voters, she is out of touch. Scapa was one of the primary proponents for a bill this year that would have enabled local governments to refuse the placement of refugees.

Gov. Sam Brownback withdrew the state from the federal refugee placement program in April, citing security concerns. The U.S. government has continued to work with local nonprofits to place refugees in Kansas.

It’s directed at potential threats we might face … whoever that might be.

Rep. Joseph Scapa, 88th District Republican

Proponents of refugee resettlement say that refugees are vetted more thoroughly than other immigrants and undergo screening from multiple federal agencies before being placed in the U.S.

Scapa said the intention of the mailer is not to scare voters but to bring attention to “potential security threats that we may have in Kansas and to draw a light to it.”

He also said the mailer was not aimed specifically at Muslims. “It’s not directed at Muslims. It’s directed at potential threats we might face … whoever that might be.”

Mailers are also going out in Wichita’s House District 97, where Democrat Stan Reeser is challenging incumbent Republican Rep. Les Osterman. Those mailers, which show a photograph of an explosion, include the message that “Stan Reeser’s Democrats support moving TERRORISTS TO KANSAS.”

Reeser called the mailers “a distraction piece” and a “scare tactic.” He said the main issue this election is righting the state’s finances.