Kansas GOP governor candidate Derek Schmidt selects U.S. Senate staffer as running mate

Updated: Jun 13

Attorney General Derek Schmidt filed to seek the Republican Party’s nomination for governor on a ticket with running mate Katie Sawyer, a staff member with U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

By Tim Carpenter, Sherman Smith, and Noah Taborda

TOPEKA — Republican gubernatorial candidate Derek Schmidt waited until the filing deadline Wednesday to announce his selection of a U.S. Senate aide as his running mate in the 2022 campaign.

Schmidt, the state’s attorney general, was under pressure from Kansas GOP hardliners to select a distinctly conservative campaign partner with a track record along the lines of Sens. Molly Baumgardner, Mike Thompson and Renee Erickson or Reps. Kristey Williams and Ron Ryckman.

In the end, Schmidt chose Katie Sawyer, a senior staffer for GOP U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall. Schmidt, in response to a question after filing, said the 2022 campaign for governor wasn’t about the GOP nominee’s linkage to former Gov. Sam Brownback.

“Elections are about the future, not about the past,” Schmidt said. “I understand that we’ve got some opponents on the other side who want to relitigate their glory days and talk about things that are long since history in Kansas. We’re going forward. I’m confident of one thing. We can do better than Kansas has done the last four years.”

After Schmidt’s announcement, the campaign of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly sent out a fundraising message that asserted Schmidt was keen to return to the “days of broken budgets and underfunded schools” under Brownback.

“This team is making measurable differences in the lives of families across the state,” Kelly’s message said, “but right out of the gate, Derek Schmidt’s new running mate called all of our work a ‘continual disappointment.’ It’s all because Laura is moving us forward instead of racing backward to the Brownback era.”

Sawyer, 38, of McPherson, has worked for Marshall for the past six years and owns a farm with her husband in McPherson County. She served as director of career services at McPherson College from 2014 to 2016 and has a background in marketing and journalism.

Schmidt and Sawyer joined forces to prepare for the contest against Kelly, who is seeking a second term in the November general election.

“I’m honored to answer this call to service and humbled that Derek has placed his confidence in me to help him get Kansas on track after years of continual disappointment from the Kelly administration,” Sawyer said. “Derek Schmidt and I will be a governor and lieutenant governor who fight every day for families like yours and mine to make Kansas the best state in America to live, work, raise a family and grow a business.”

Schmidt said Sawyer “brings a new generation of young and energetic leadership to help us move Kansas forward to a bright and better tomorrow.”

Sawyer graduated in 2006 from Pittsburg State University, where she studied communication and international studies, and earned a master’s degree in strategic communication from Purdue University in 2017.

“She has her finger on the pulse of Kansas, and she knows exactly what they’re talking about at their kitchen tables,” Marshall said.

But Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee, argued Sawyer’s work with Marshall was enough for her to know she would not serve the state’s best interests.

“He is an embarrassment to our state, so she must be OK with that embarrassment in his form of politics,” Ruiz said. “That’s all I need to know that she is in line. She’s not stood out to say that her thoughts are any different than theirs.”

Kelly, who is seeking election to a second term in November, is campaigning with Lt. Gov. David Toland, who also serves as secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce. Kelly’s running mate in 2018 was Lynn Rogers, whom the governor appointed state treasurer in December 2019. Kelly filed for reelection two weeks ago.

There was a time when Schmidt’s path to the Republican nomination would have required he defeat former Gov. Jeff Colyer or former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Colyer withdrew from the race for health reasons and Pompeo passed on a campaign for governor.

Schmidt, 54, served in the Kansas Senate from 2001 to 2011, representing a district that included Independence in southeast Kansas. He was elected attorney general in 2010 and reelected twice.

Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, said choosing Sawyer was meant to deflect scrutiny on his policies.

“The last thing that I believe he would want was another shiny object on the ticket with him that would call into question his ability to govern in a thoughtful manner,” Holland said. “So, I think he has gone for a choice that is totally under the radar.”

In January, former President Donald Trump endorsed Schmidt’s candidacy for governor, declaring Schmidt would be a “popular and very wise choice.” In the 2020 election, Trump carried Kansas with 56.2 percent of the vote against Democrat Joe Biden’s 41.5 percent.

The deadline for statewide candidates in Kansas to file for office was noon Wednesday, while the deadline for candidates for the Legislature, Congress and the Kansas Board of Education was set for June 10 due to court review of redistricting maps. The deadline for voter registration for the Aug. 2 primary is July 12.

This article was used by permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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