TOPEKA, (KSNT)- A battle between two candidates for Kansas governor is stirring controversy. Kansas Governor Laura Kelly and Republican nominee Derek Schmidt are butting heads over whether state money was used to sponsor several drag shows.

Kelly shot down accusations from Schmidt in an interview on Tuesday.

“That is not true…That state funding did not go for that purpose,” Kelly said. “You know, I really don’t know what his motives are… I can’t get into his head. You know, I just know that it wasn’t true.”

Schmidt held a press conference on Monday, claiming that state funds were used to sponsor several drag shows- one that took place in Lawrence earlier this year, another that took place in Wichita over the weekend on October 22, and an upcoming show in Wichita on October 28.

Schmidt cited “promotional materials” that were used in relation to the events. A screenshot of a flyer for the upcoming drag show in Wichita had a Kansas Department of Commerce logo in the bottom right corner.

“The promotional materials have varying degrees of connection in terms of using the state’s information, but all claim to have support from the State of Kansas,” Schmidt said on Monday.

The state has not yet addressed claims about the state-sponsored drag show that took place in Lawrence. According to the City of Lawrence website, the drag show was part of the Art + Culture + Crossings program in June. The website said it’s a collaborative art program made possible by a Reimagined Spaces grant from the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission, which receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.

One of the artworks included in the program is listed as “‘We’ll have a gay old time!’: Marrying drag & music in Lawrence, KS, photography exhibit + drag performance, by Fally Afani’.”

As for the drag shows in Wichita, the state department of commerce has denied Schmidt’s claims.

In an email to Kansas Capitol Bureau on Tuesday, Patrick Lowry, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Commerce sent the following statement regarding both Wichita drag shows.

“Neither the Kansas Creative Arts Industries Commission (KCAIC) nor the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsored the DADA Ball event that took place October 22 or the Mall Monster Mash event scheduled for October 28.”

Patrick Lowry, Kansas Department of Commerce

According to the state’s commerce department, the organizer of the DADA ball mistakenly listed KCAIC in association with the event. Neither the KCAIC nor the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsored the October 22 event. Commerce gave a Visiting Artist Grant to the host organization Harvester Arts for a completely unrelated initiative (“A City Where I Belong”) for the artist Aaron Asis’ work at Chainlink Gallery Place. His residency began July 1, 2022, and goes through June 30, 2023.

Regarding the event on October 28, the state agency stated that neither the KCAIC nor the Kansas Department of Commerce sponsored the October 28 event. Commerce’s Reimagined Spaces program funds projects to convert vacant spaces into spaces that can promote public engagement with the arts and spur economic development. OpenStudios, the event host, was a grant recipient but funds were approved to be used for utility fees and a part-time administrator – not for programming. 

Kelly and Schmidt are expected to be in a ‘tight’ race for Kansas governor.

This latest controversy comes as Schmidt and Kelly have also clashed over the economy, education, and transgender athletes in women sports.

In his press conference, Schmidt also called on the governor to apologize for the supposed use of state money for the drag show events. However, the Governor said that Schmidt should be the one apologizing.

“If anyone needs to apologize, it’s Derek Schmidt for deceiving the public,” Kelly said.