The Kansas Republican Party paid for mailers in a competitive Kansas House race in Wichita that feature a black man’s hand covering a white woman’s mouth.
The mailers seek to tie Democrat Elizabeth Bishop, a candidate in east Wichita’s House District 88, to the Kansas Supreme Court’s 2014 decision to overturn the death penalty for Jonathan and Reginald Carr.
The court upheld the Carrs’ convictions for a series of murders in Wichita in 2000. But it set up a scenario where new sentencing hearings would have to take place, sparking criticism from the victims’ families and some politicians.
The decision, which was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court this year, has been the focus of a campaign to oust four of the justices who are up for retention this year.
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The mailer also features portraits of the Carrs and the four justices standing for retention with the message that “TOGETHER, THESE FOUR KANSAS SUPREME COURT JUSTICES DISMISSED THEIR SENTENCE.”
The mailer warns that “radical politicians, like ELIZABETH BISHOP, are trying to protect these four justices and their complete disregard for Kansas law” and tells voters, “IT’S TIME FOR JUSTICE. VOTE AGAINST ELIZABETH BISHOP.”
Gov. Sam Brownback employed a similar tactic in the 2014 gubernatorial race with television ads that linked his Democratic opponent Paul Davis to the controversial court decision.
Bishop called the mailer “the worst kind of race baiting I have ever seen” and an “absolutely disgusting piece.”
She said any connection between the legislative race and the judicial retention election is “so tenuous as to be absurd.”
The state Republican Party previously sent out mailers in the district featuring an ISIS fighter with the question “Have you met the neighbors?” The mailers drew national media attention and criticism from Muslim groups, which accused the party of engaging in Islamophobia.
Clay Barker, the executive of the Kansas Republican Party, said at the time that the party had done polling and concluded that public safety was a winning issue this election. He said mailers portraying Democrats as soft on crime were in the works.
Barker did not return phone calls Friday but sent an e-mail response.
“The issue is simple and clear – The Kansas Supreme Court repeatedly sides with murderers and rapists and Elizabeth Bishop is behind the court 100%,” Barker wrote. “Particularly in East Wichita, where these tragedies occurred, Elizabeth Bishop should be ashamed of herself for not standing with the victims and against the Kansas Supreme Court.”
Bishop’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Joseph Scapa, R-Wichita, said he had no role in designing the mailer and could not remember if he had seen it before it was sent out.
“I may have seen it,” Scapa said. “I don’t know. … That one was not specifically mine, so no, it was not run by me.”
Scapa said he did think the Carr case was relevant to state legislative races but could not comment further without seeing the mailer.