© 2022 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Democratic candidates for the Kansas House are facing threats and hostility while campaigning

Misti Hobbs, a Democrat running for a Sedgwick County seat in the House, said her abortion rights mural was defaced ahead of the August vote on a constitutional amendment.
Misti Hobbs
/
Misti Hobbs, a Democrat running for a Sedgwick County seat in the House, said her abortion rights mural was defaced ahead of the August vote on a constitutional amendment.

As the November election gets closer, Democratic candidates say they have been physically threatened, yelled at and followed while canvassing or during other campaign activities. They say their Republican counterparts aren’t met with the same level of harassment.

In late August, Rep. Heather Meyer was taking her son to school when she noticed something weird on her car’s windshield.

When she tried to wipe it off, the Overland Park Democrat realized it was a pack of 40 printouts, including pictures of dismembered fetuses, accusations that she was a baby murderer and notes calling Democrats evil.

Someone had found her address — which she had previously removed from voter records for safety reasons — and came by in the night to leave the packet in front of her house.

“It was just really unsettling,” Meyer said. “If I’d seen it somewhere else, maybe I’d laugh it off and say no big deal. But because it happened in my driveway, at my home, where my family lives, it was terrifying.”

As the November election gets closer, Democratic candidates say they have been physically threatened, yelled at and followed while canvassing or during other attempts to broadcast their platforms to Kansans. They say their Republican counterparts aren’t met with the same hostility.

Meyer filed a police report to get the incident on record. Meyer has represented her district for about a year, replacing former Rep. Brett Parker in September 2021 and running for reelection on the November ballot. She said she loves the work, but worries about the environment of extremism that has taken over politics, referencing conservative media.

“If you tune in to Fox News, they say a lot of that,” Meyer said. “If you listen to the Ted Nugent show, for instance, which Kris Kobach was just on, you hear a lot of that. You hear a lot of people targeting us specifically. Democrats don’t do this stuff, and it’s just not in our nature. We try our best to serve our communities. I’m not saying that Republicans don’t try to do the same, but I think that at our core, we just aren’t as prone to extremism.”

Kirk Haskins, who is running for a Topeka district seat in the House, said he was canvassing in a neighborhood a few weeks ago when he was approached by a resident, who told him that if he didn’t leave immediately, he would get shot. Haskins mentioned the incident during an Oct. 4 legislative forum, where no Republican candidates showed up.

In an interview with Kansas Reflector after the forum, Haskins said he was sure the person was serious. Haskins filed an incident report with police about the threat.

“It did come up in a conversation in a neighborhood that I’ve lived in for 23 years. So it was a little bit disheartening,” Haskins said.

Kim Zito, a Democrat challenging Republican Rep. Michael Dodson in a Manhattan district, said she was chased while canvassing in a residential area a few weeks ago.

Zito said a man started shouting her when she knocked on his door, and then followed her down the street, still shouting when she backed away. Zito moved on to the next house, but he blocked her access to the door, telling the homeowner not to accept what she was “peddling.” When he tried to grab her arm, she ran to her car and drove off.

“I was a mixture of angry and confused,” Zito said. “What I was doing didn’t really warrant such a response. That was just really overblown for someone who just rang the doorbell to introduce myself. That was just really preposterous.”

Zito said she’s had a few other incidents of people calling her a baby killer when they found out she was canvassing as a Democrat, but that this was the worst she has experienced.

“It shook me up. And I’m not a person to get shaken up,” she said.

Jalon Britton, who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Patrick Penn in Wichita, said he noticed a car following him for two days in a row while canvassing a particular neighborhood. He thought he was mistaken, and that maybe the car was some sort of delivery service, until he was speaking with an older woman who lived in the neighborhood.

The man in the car pulled up, and asked the woman if she was safe talking to Britton, and if he was bothering her. She told the man that she and Britton were discussing his platform, and he drove away again.

“She was an older white lady and I’m a Black man. He was asking her, ‘Was it OK?’ Like he was gonna police me or something if she wasn’t, or if she didn’t answer the way he wanted her to,” Britton said. “I felt embarrassed. I felt small.”

Britton learned that there had been four or five complaints filed against him for soliciting in that neighborhood during the two days he canvassed there. While Britton is still determined to continue to get his message out, he said the whole experience left him feeling angry and sad, especially the thought that a candidate for office was still getting racially profiled in 2022.

Misti Hobbs, a Democrat running against Republican Leah Howell for a district in Sedgwick County, had her property vandalized after she painted a large abortion rights mural on her fence ahead of the August vote on abortion. Her paintings were vandalized with spray paint, including large genitalia. Hobbs said the vandals had tried to pry the boards away and light the fence on fire.

After she filed a police report and the incident was publicized, Hobbs said she got a lot of mail, mostly support letters, but also a few threats. She said that sometimes she’d get notes left on her door saying that she was going to hell, or in one incident, a driver screaming racial slurs as he passed their residence, because her husband is Black.

“I did my best to concentrate on all the love, you know, but words like that are just horribly scary, especially when I have young children living in the house and family staying here until they find their own place,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs said things have mostly calmed down, but she’s still practicing safety precautions. Hobbs said this sort of harassment is a partisan issue.

“I don’t want to say it’s on Republicans, but I do want to say that that is the narrative that the national party is pushing, therefore their little sects of state parties push and align with that. So, it is an attack on Democrats and democracy. I just don’t see Republicans getting chased and threatened like Kim Zito up in Manhattan, Kansas. I’m not seeing them,” Hobbs said.

Chuck Torres, running against Rep. Eric Smith in a district that spans Coffey, Lyon and Osage counties, said he has noticed incivility while doing door-to-door campaigning.

Torres said he believes this reaction is caused by Donald Trump’s influence.

“A lot of people just shut down. Others get angry and say we are evil,” Torres said. “I’ve been called other choice words. I’ve had my card thrown back at me a few times. All I am trying to do is provide them information so they are knowledgeable when they vote. I will usually just leave and tell them to have a nice day.”

Kansas Republican Party spokeswoman Shannon Pahls said an anti-abortion Republican teenager was attacked while canvassing ahead of the abortion amendment. Pahls didn’t respond to inquiries about whether Republican candidates were being harassed ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

This story was originally published on the Kansas Reflector.

KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and powerful storytelling.
Your donation helps make nonprofit journalism available for everyone.