Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will speak at the Faith and Freedom Picnic in Johnson County on Saturday that was promoted with the slogan “Olathe Lives Matter!”
Kobach, who launched his campaign for governor earlier this month, is one of several prominent Kansas Republicans listed on an invitation for the event hosted by the Olathe Republican Party.
David Lightner, chairman of the Olathe Republican Party, said that each year the party includes a line in its invitations “that gets a little humor out there,” and that the party “didn’t mean anything” by the apparent reference to the Black Lives Matter slogan that has been used by activists to protest police shootings of African-Americans.
“If it was taken the wrong way, I’m sorry. And I apologize,” Lightner said, noting that versions of the phrase have been repeated again and again in the past year. “Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter. Every life matters,” he said. He also added that the use of rainbow font was not intended to be a reference to the LGBT rights movement.
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The perceived mockery of the Black Lives Matter movement and the attendance of prominent officials sparked backlash on social media.
“Kansas lawmakers are hard-pressed to find time for town halls, but they’re able to make it to this extremely insensitive event,” read one tweet.
Another user responded, “Olathe Lives Matter? This after the Indian men murdered there just a few months ago and the silence from the GOP.”
The invitation lists U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran as the keynote speaker, but Moran’s spokeswoman said the GOP senator will have events in Manhattan, Kan., that day. Lightner said the party had not confirmed with Moran that he could attend before sending out the invitations.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, will also miss the event, but will have campaign staff present, according to his spokesman.
Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer’s office confirmed that he planned to attend the picnic, which takes place at Cedar Lake Park between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday.