By Anne Hassler Heidel
HUTCHINSON, Kan.—Voters in Kansas have a choice of five candidates for governor this November, and three of them—Senator Laura Kelly, Sec. of State Kris Kobach and independent Greg Orman—debated Saturday at the State Fair.
The three candidates squared off Saturday in front of a rowdy crowd of supporters at the 2018 Kansas State Fair Gubernatorial Debate. Candidates answered questions about everything from taxes to education to conceal/carry.
Kobach, who is the Republican candidate, made clear his intentions to cut taxes at levels implemented by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 and to offset them by decreases in spending. He also frequently mentioned his close working relationship with President Donald Trump as an asset for his administration.
Kelly, a 14-year veteran of the Kansas Legislature, built her platform on properly funding education, building broadband and road infrastructure to spur economic growth and expanding Medicaid for eligible Kansans.
Orman, an independent business owner from Johnson County, said the state has been on a steady decline for two decades, thanks to partisan politics. He hopes to change that by promoting economic growth, expanding the power grid west of Kansas for renewable energies and legalizing hemp as an agricultural crop.
Kobach would like to see a two-percent cap on all property appraisals, with less frequent appraisals for farmland as a way to aid Kansas farmers. He criticized Kelly for her plans that would see an increase in spending and Orman for his association with Kansas City Power and Light (KCP&L) and recent utility rate hikes.
Kelly equated a Kobach administration with more of the dangerous Brownback tax experiments of the last four years.
“Kobach will take us down that same path and into a ditch,” she said.
Orman corrected Kobach’s criticism about his KCP&L work, saying he left that position in 2003. Orman also held Kelly’s feet to the fire on her sponsorship of the state’s current conceal/carry legislation. Kelly, who now opposes unlicensed conceal/carry, said Kansas needs a governor capable of change.
On the issue of medical marijuana, Kelly and Orman said they are in favor of it, while Kobach said he would never approve any type of marijuana legalization because it would put Kansas on a path similar to California. When booed by those in the crowd, he encouraged them to “go eat a burrito.”
Support for expanding Medicaid as a means of helping rural hospitals and those left behind in the gap was another split between Kobach and the other two candidates. Kelly said Kansans are giving up $2.7 billion being paid into Medicaid that is being redirected to other states. Kobach said expansion would be too costly and encouraged those needing insurance to look into a low-cost concierge type of program that has unlimited primary care coverage, but Kelly cautioned it does not address major medical conditions.
Kansas’s Highway Fund, which has been used to shore up other budget shortfalls, was a split response. Kelly would like to see the state return to a comprehensive 10-year plan and improve roads to increase growth in areas like southeast Kansas. Kobach said Kansas has better highways than some neighboring states. Orman said his transportation plan would put $80 million a year into highway funds that could be realized in spending cuts elsewhere.
The debate was moderated by WIBW, and panelists included Nick Gosnell, news director for WIBW; Michael Schwanke, anchor for KWCH; Dena Sattler, Gatehouse Media; and Duane Toews, farm director for KFRM.