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Governor responds after Kan. newspaper’s post equates mask mandate with Holocaust

 Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters about the coronavirus pandemic after a meeting with legislative leaders, Thursday, July 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly has issued an order to require people to wear masks in public and at their workplaces. (AP Photo/John Hanna)
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly answers questions from reporters about the coronavirus pandemic after a meeting with legislative leaders, Thursday, July 2, 2020, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly has issued an order to require people to wear masks in public and at their workplaces. (AP Photo/John Hanna) (KY3)
Published: Jul. 5, 2020 at 4:27 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 6, 2020 at 4:27 PM CDT
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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - A weekly Kansas newspaper whose publisher is a county Republican Party chairman posted a cartoon on its Facebook page likening the Democratic governor’s order requiring people to wear masks in public to the roundup and murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

The cartoon on the Anderson County Review’s Facebook page depicts Gov. Laura Kelly wearing a mask with a Jewish Star of David on it, next to a drawing of people being loaded onto train cars. Its caption is, “Lockdown Laura says: Put on your mask ... and step onto the cattle car.”

The newspaper posted the cartoon on Friday, the day that Kelly’s mask order aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus took effect. It’s drawn several hundred comments, many of them strongly critical.

Publisher Dane Hicks, who is also Anderson County’s GOP chairman, told The Associated Press on Saturday that he would answer emailed questions about the cartoon once he could reach a computer. His newspaper is based in the county seat of Garnett, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) southwest of Kansas City and has a circulation of about 2,100, according to the Kansas Press Association.

Kelly, who is Catholic, issued a statement saying, “Mr. Hicks’ decision to publish anti-Semitic imagery is deeply offensive and he should remove it immediately.”

At a news conference Monday, the governor said the cartoon speaks to the ongoing politicization of what she calls “common sense health measures,” and that it is just one example of efforts to dismiss public health recommendations in favor of what she calls “short-term political points.”

Kelly said Kansas is at a “make-it-or-break-it” moment, which will be key to keeping people healthy and businesses and schools open.

With 3,500 new cases in the past two weeks, the state’s seen its steepest rate of increase since the pandemic began.

Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, called the cartoon “appalling” and disgusting” and said anyone connected to its posting should be fired.

Rabbi Moti Rieber, executive director of Kansas Interfaith Action, said most if not all comparisons of current political events to the Holocaust are “odious” and said it’s “incoherent” to equate an action designed to save lives with mass murder. Finally, he said, putting the Star of David on Kelly’s mask is anti-Semitic because it implies “nefarious Jews” are behind her actions.

“This thing is like the trifecta of garbage,” Rieber said, calling on Republican leaders to repudiate the cartoon and Hicks immediately.

Some Republicans have criticized Kelly’s order as infringing on personal liberties, though Kansas law allows counties to opt-out and Anderson County has done so.

The governor issued the order because of a resurgence in reported coronavirus cases that increased the state’s total to nearly 16,000 as of Friday when Kansas finished its worst two-week spike since the pandemic began. The state has reported 277 COVID-19-related deaths. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.

State GOP Chairman Mike Kuckelman, spending the holiday in the Missouri Ozarks, did not immediately respond to a text containing the cartoon and seeking comment.

Hicks previously criticized Kelly in a blog post for taking a “one-size-fits-all approach to reopening what he called the state’s “bureaucracy-hammered” economy.

Kelly lifted statewide restrictions on businesses and public gatherings on May 26 after weeks of criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature that she was moving too slowly to reopen the state’s economy. Some conservative GOP lawmakers also have accused her of being heavy-handed and even dictatorial in responding to the pandemic.

Anderson County, with about 7,900 residents, is part of a conservative swath of eastern Kansas. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1 and President Donald Trump carried it with nearly 73% of the vote in 2016.

The state health department has reported only four coronavirus cases for Anderson County, all of them since May 8. There have been no reported deaths there.

County Commission Chairman Jerry Howarter said of the more than 70 people who showed up to its meeting on the mask mandate Friday, all but one opposed it. He said he had not seen the cartoon.

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