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DA Candidates Battle Over Experience, Abortion


Kansas City, MO – Both Republican candidates for Johnson County District Attorney describe themselves as pro-life, but abortion is one of the biggest topics in the elections. Phill Kline has staked out a name for himself with pro-life groups and the national media, first as Kansas Attorney General and for the past year and half as the Johnson County District attorney. His opponent, Steve Howe, has kept a lower profile, spending the past 15 years working the Johnson County District Attorney's office. KCUR's Maria Carter has more on the race.

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Both Republican candidates say they're pro-life. But current Johnson County District Attorney Phill Kline has made a national name for himself on the issue, appearing on the O'Reilly Factor and speaking to anti-abortion groups. As attorney general, he pursued cases against the two abortion providers in Kansas. Kline continued to aggressively pursue a case against Planned Parenthood of Overland Park as Johnson County DA.

Kline: Ha. That's the media's assessment and no it's not nearly fair. I've had over 12,000 cases as District Attorney.

His opponent Steve Howe says despite some successes in high profile cases Kline's politics has played too big of a role in the prosecutor's office. And Howe says like any case, one against abortion providers, should be based on the law and evidence.

Howe: If you stay true to the form and stay , which is something I've done for 18 years, and stay on those bases for your decisions. Then people may not always agree with your decision on what you do as district attorney, but at least they'll respect your decision and understand it's objective analysis and that your doing it for the right reasons.

Howe says if elected his top priorities would be pursing heavier sentences for career criminals, developing non-court sanctions for first time juvenile offenders, and training new attorneys in his office. Howe acknowledges Kline is more well-known, but he says he's not worried.

Howe: I think the name recognition is there but not always for the right reasons and not always for the positive aspects of it. You know, one of the things that I think is the true difference or distinction between us is I think one of the thing career politician and a professional prosecutor.

Kline says that's simply not true and that his experience as Kansas attorney general and for the past year and a half as DA proves it.

Kline: I've been an attorney 19 years. I've appeared before the United States Supreme Court, in federal courts in Kentucky, California. I've represented state governments. I was chair of the Republican Attorney General's Association, President of the Midwest Association of Attorney's General. Overseen over 60 murder cases. Led prosecutions in double homicides. Managed offices. Won key murder cases. Personally trying John Henry Horton. He doesn't have that experience.

Kline says if elected he would focus on training attorney's in the prosecutors to work in the federal courts, something he also did as Attorney General. But, Republicans leaders have lined up behind Steve Howe. Both U-S Senators Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts have endorsed Howe as have statewide Republican leaders and half dozen Johnson County mayors. But despite the high ranking support, Howe's not a shoe in. A Straw Poll of Olathe Republicans earlier this month went overwhelmingly to Kline. Some say this points to an ongoing split in the Kansas Republican party, but Johnson County Republican Party Chair Scott Schwab he's not taking sides.

Scwab: Neither man's a liar. Neither man's in an incompetent prosecutor and neither man's a failure.

But August 5th could be another test for the strength of the conservative faction. So far they've had success getting conservatives on the ballot, but have tended to fall flat against Democrats in the general election.

The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Rick Guinn in November. To hear extended interviews with both Steve Howe and Phill Kline, go to kcur-dot-org and click on news.

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