The two top candidates for Kansas governor sparred in a debate over a familiar name: former Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback.
The two distanced themselves from Brownback, who left office earlier this year with sagging approval numbers.
Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly has tried to connect her Republican opponent, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to Brownback throughout the campaign. She said the 2012 tax cuts, pushed by Brownback and reversed by lawmakers last year, hurt state services such as schools, health care and roads.
“It’s all been devastated by the Brownback tax experiment,” Kelly said. “Do we hand the wheel to a man who has every intention of driving us back into the ditch?”
Kobach has promised to cut taxes and balance that with a spending reduction. Kelly said that’s bad for the state.
“Kris Kobach has promised to bring back the Brownback tax experiment and cut even more,” she said.
Kobach criticized Kelly for focusing so much on the state’s former governor.
“It seems like she wants to run against Sam Brownback,” he said, “not run against me.”
Kobach went to turn the tables on Kelly, and to tie her to Brownback. He said Kelly and Brownback had both supported increases in spending and the two share a lack of appetite for fighting illegal immigration.
“Will the real Sam Brownback,” he said, “please stand up?”
The two top candidates tilled much of the same ground as in past debates, but they shared different policy plans for boosting transparency in Kansas government.
Kobach said much of the Legislature’s work is accomplished in committees, but the votes are often unrecorded voice votes. Kobach argued for recording all committee votes.
“If you want to know how your representative or senator voted on an issue, you have to be present in the room watching their lips move,” Kobach said. “That’s outrageous.”
The state should stop using no-bid contracts, Kelly argued. She said millions of dollars had been spent on contracts without a public bidding process. Kelly said she would stop the process and review the contracts already in place.
“We need to shine the sunlight on those, and make sure that they were in the best interests of Kansans,” she said. “My guess is that many of them are not.”
The two shared the stage with Independent candidate Greg Orman. He pushed back against the idea that he could simply be a spoiler in the race. Several polls have shown him in a distant third place with the support of around 10 percent of voters.
Orman said rather than a spoiler, he’s offering a true alternative in the race.
“We don’t have to choose fear and hate,” he said. “We don’t have to vote for a bad candidate just to avoid a worse one.”
Orman said after the debate that he has every intention of staying in the race.
Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
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