Some Kansas Legislative Races Turn Ugly As Election Day Gets Closer | KCUR

Some Kansas Legislative Races Turn Ugly As Election Day Gets Closer

Oct 15, 2016

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In a sign of just how close a few legislative races are in Kansas, someone has paid for so-called push polling in three contests.

A push poll uses unflattering questions about someone to "push" the voter in the direction of their opponent. It has no scientific value and is recognized as negative, if not downright dirty, campaigning.

Around here, a push poll was done in the Johnson County state senate race between Republican Dinah Sykes and Democrat Logan Heley. Other push polls have been done in the races between incumbent Republican Mike Petersen and his opponent Keith Humphrey for a Wichita state senate seat and the state senate race in Lawrence between incumbent Democrat Marci Francisco and her GOP opponent Meredith Richey.

Perhaps the most contentious campaign right now is between Sykes and Heley.

Here's a sample of what people were told on the robocall, according to someone who received a call.

  • When at the University of Southern California, Heley championed implementation of transgender bathrooms on campus and in dorms which would allow men to use the women's restrooms.

  • While at USC, Heley was a member of a rowdy fraternity. He bragged of marijuana use.

  • Other than political internships, Heley has never held a full-time job and lives at home with his parents.

"My campaign and I don't engage in the politics of personal destruction," Heley said about the claims in the robocall. "I'm not even dignifying those or any of their attacks with a response."

In a news release, Heley also said he believes the push poll has ties to Gov. Sam Brownback and state Senate President Susan Wagle.

"It’s clear the attacks against Heley were made possible by dark money and the same kind of D.C.-style politics that Sam Brownback uses," the release said.

Sykes, who beat conservative incumbent Sen. Greg Smith in the August primary, flatly denies any involvement. “I think it’s horrific. Nobody should have done this,” Sykes said in a phone interview in which she was clearly emotional.

In fact, soon after she learned about the push poll she took to Facebook deny involvement. "I do not support this tactic and I have not nor will I engage in these types of tactics."

Sykes says she called Heley to say she neither paid for nor authorized the poll. Heley cofirmed the phone call.

Sykes says she spoke with Wagle and the conservative Wichita Republican denied paying for the push poll. State Sen. Jim Denning from Overland Park, a senior member of the GOP caucus,  said at a campaign event Saturday that he also didn't know who paid for the poll.

Despite the denials, Heley is not satisfied.

"I still think her campaign, maybe not Sykes but her campaign, is behind the push poll."

Heley responded with a robocall of his own warning of the push poll and saying it's "filled with lies."

Sam Zeff  covers education for KCUR and is co-host of the political podcast Statehouse Blend. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff.