In Missouri and Kansas races, politics aren’t local. It’s all Washington all the time

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When President Joe Biden announced an aggressive push to vaccinate Americans against COVID-19 in early September, several Missouri state officials were especially thunderous in their condemnation.

Sen. Mike Moon decried the “medical tyranny” of “King Joe Biden.” Sen. Eric Burlison warned on Facebook the policy “goes absolutely TOO FAR!” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said Biden’s “overreach” wouldn’t stand and all but promised to sue.

All three are Republicans trying to get elected to Congress.

In Missouri, state officials seeking federal office — and higher office generally — have injected national politics into state government and mobilized their offices to fight the Democratic Congress and White House. Their efforts to win over conservative voters are fueling a nationalization of Missouri politics more than 10 months before the primary election.

A similar phenomenon is playing out in Kansas. With every U.S. House Republican incumbent running for re-election, no state official is currently seeking federal office. But the GOP is working to tie Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who’s up for re-election in 2022, to Biden and national controversies, such as the response to migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. The likely Republican nominee for governor, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, is also engaged in legal confrontations with the Biden administration.

Collectively, the actions suggest national politics will loom large over both states in the months ahead as Missouri Republicans race to outdo each other in fighting Biden and Kansas Republicans seek to soften up Kelly and bolster Schmidt.

“It used to be ‘all politics is local’ and now it feels like all politics is national,” said Missouri Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat.

The nationalization of politics is not new and has been deployed by both parties in past elections. But it is especially pronounced among Republicans at the moment as Democrats hold the presidency and both chambers of Congress for the first time in a decade — providing conservatives a big foil.

“We’ve conceded so much to the federal government and we need to put an end to it,” Rep. Nick Schroer, an O’Fallon Republican running for Missouri Senate, told a mid-Missouri radio show last week.

Since Biden took office in January, Missouri legislators running for higher office have pushed for confrontations with the federal government over abortion, gun rights and, most recently, vaccinations. For instance, the General Assembly this spring passed a bill championed by Burlison that stops local police from enforcing some federal gun laws.

A small band of Missouri lawmakers, several of whom are looking to move up also pushed the state to the brink of defunding Medicaid this summer as they tried unsuccessfully to stop any public dollars from covering certain forms of birth control or going to Planned Parenthood — changes that would have drawn the ire of the federal government.

Three House Republicans, all running for higher office, spent two days during a special session in June trying to pass the prohibitions even after it was clear the bill would go nowhere after the Senate passed its own proposal. A week later, Ashland Rep. Sara Walsh, who pushed for the bill, announced her run for Congress. The other proponents, Reps. Mary Elizabeth Coleman of Arnold and Schroer, are both running for state Senate.

And this month, some Missouri legislators have clamored for Gov. Mike Parson to call a special session to fight Biden’s vaccination initiative, which will mandate vaccines for many health care workers and require most businesses with 100 employees or more to ensure their workers are vaccinated or to regularly test them. Candidates and potential candidates for Congress have been among the loudest voices calling for action.

But the behavior of some candidates during the General Assembly’s veto session last week earned a rebuke from party leaders. After Moon wasn’t recognized to seek a veto override of a $150,000 line item to refund business owners who had been overcharged sales taxes, he and others chewed up hours of floor time trying to circumvent Republican leadership.

“It’s clear we have a lot of people who are running for higher office in this building,” said Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, a Columbia Republican who is himself weighing a run for Congress.

During the veto session, Coleman was one of several Republicans who floated a bill with the intent of allowing Missourians to somehow disobey the federal vaccine order. She has also said she will introduce an abortion ban similar to the new Texas law that avoided Supreme Court scrutiny because it pushed enforcement of the ban onto private citizens.

The tactic may be familiar to Missourians — a private enforcement provision is included in the state’s new gun law banning police from helping with federal firearms investigations.

“As we’re seeing the federal government overstep the bounds of federalism … we’re seeing more and more of a press there to try to gain the state’s authority to determine what laws it’s enforcing,” Coleman said earlier this month. “People are looking for ways to push back.”

In Kansas, as Schmidt and Republican legislative leaders threatened legal action against the Biden administration’s proposed vaccine rules, the party called out Kelly.

When the plan was announced, Kelly’s office released a statement that they were waiting on details. In the time since, the Republican Governor’s Association has sent three news releases accusing Kelly of “standing with her Party boss Joe Biden” by not speaking against the policy.

Republicans have also sought to link Kelly to the influx of migrants at the southern border. On Tuesday, Schmidt and other Republicans attacked the governor for not sending law enforcement personnel to Texas to assist. The comments came after similar efforts in the past. In June, the state’s three GOP congressmen publicly called on Kelly to send resources to the border.

At the time, Kelly responded by urging the three congressmen to “get to work” on passing comprehensive immigration reforms instead of resorting to “political games,” the Associated Press reported. On Wednesday, Kelly spokesman Sam Coleman said that since October 2020, Kansas has had nearly 250 National Guard soldiers deployed to the border.

“Both Republicans and Democrats in Washington have failed to address the problems within our immigration system for decades,” Coleman said in a statement. “We need true reform in a way that protects the border and allows us to continue to grow our economy here in Kansas, not publicity stunts that use our service members as political props.”

The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed reporting

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