Kansas vaccine mandate foes rally, vent anger in hearing

Hundreds of people opposed to COVID-19 vaccine mandates rallied Saturday at the Kansas Statehouse, encouraged by Republicans who see President Joe Biden’s policies as a spur for higher turnout among conservative voters.

The rally kicked off ahead of a rare weekend legislative committee hearing on mandates that affect as many as 100 million Americans. The hearing gave dozens of mandate opponents a chance to vent their frustration and anger both with the Democratic president’s administration and Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel’s name — the joint Committee on Government Overreach and the Impact of COVID-19 Mandates — signals that Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature already have concluded that the mandates violate people’s liberties. But many are not yet sure what power the state has to resist.

Saturday’s hearing came after state Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican hoping to unseat Kelly next year, announced that he has brought Kansas into a federal lawsuit against Biden’s vaccine mandate for employees of government contractors.

The Biden administration is also requiring vaccinations for all federal workers and certain health care workers. Private employers with 100 or more workers will have to require them to be vaccinated or tested weekly.

“The war at hand is the well-being of our nation, the soul of our nation,” Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen, a Hutchinson anesthesiologist and pain-management doctor who’s promoted discredited COVID-19 conspiracy theories and dubious treatments, said at the start of Saturday’s hearing.

Republican activists and consultants across the country contend that opposition to vaccine mandates could create a movement akin to the tea party movement.

Participants in the Statehouse rally brought Gadsden flags — which say show a coiled snake and say, “Don’t tread on me.” Speakers urged attendees to vote for candidates who oppose vaccine and mask mandates in Tuesday’s local school board elections.

“If we do not consent, we cannot be governed,” state Rep. Pat Proctor, a Leavenworth Republican, told the crowd.

Other speakers included former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a polarizing conservative and vocal ally of former President Donald Trump who is running for Kansas attorney general next year. A former law professor, Kobach said he would testify at the committee hearing as an expert on the U.S. Constitution.

“This is an organic grassroots uprising of the people,” he said.

The legislative committee, which is supposed to recommend steps for the Legislature to take, opened hearings Friday, and almost everyone testifying so far has strongly opposed vaccine mandates, with some repeating misinformation about vaccine safety.

On Friday, the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers’ Wichita district compared the mandates to the Holocaust that killed million of Jews during World War II, and a committee member, Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr, of Wichita, appeared to agree with the comparison.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

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