The five candidates for Kansas governor faced off at a forum Tuesday night in Wichita.
It was a rare opportunity for independent Rick Kloos and Libertarian Jeff Caldwell to share a stage with the three major candidates — Republican Kris Kobach, Democrat Laura Kelly and independent Greg Orman.
Caldwell has advocated for legalizing marijuana and using tax revenue from that to shore up the state budget. Kloos talked about being a “frustrated Republican,” describing himself as pro-gun rights and anti-abortion.
The forum setup strayed from more straightforward descriptions of each candidate’s policy into more of a debate as candidates traded jabs on education funding, guns and Medicaid.
Kelly leaned into the Second Amendment, saying law-abiding citizens should have a right to concealed carry and to hunt. However, she said Kansas should enact “common sense” policies restricting gun access.
Kobach reiterated his support for gun rights and said he wants to see the age for concealed carry lowered from 21 to 18.
“Why is it that we say somebody who's 18 or 19 or 20 can carry a weapon in the U.S. military, but they can't defend themselves in a dark parking lot at night against an attacker?” he asked.
Orman, by contrast, said concealed carry should be further restricted.
“In the state of Kansas, you need a thousand hours of training to legally wax an eyebrow, but now, because of the constitutional carry amendment, anybody can carry a concealed weapon — even onto some of our schools — without a minute's worth of safety training," Orman said.
Kelly said she has pushed for Kansas to expand Medicaid for as long as that’s been an option.
“We've left $3 billion of Kansas taxpayers’ money back in Washington, D.C., for other states to provide services for their citizens and for them to expand their economies and for them to grow jobs," Kelly said. "We need to change that.”
Kelly again hit at former Gov. Sam Brownback’s legacy, criticizing his 2017 veto of the Kansas Legislature’s attempt to expand Medicaid.
Kobach was the lone candidate against expanding Medicaid. He said Kansas taxpayers can’t afford it.
“What we need to do instead of imagining that money grows on trees, like my opponents do, is we need to think about where we spend the money and how to make it more efficient,” he said.
Orman said he’d expand Medicaid, but do so in a way that avoided costing the taxpayers money.
Kobach said that while state spending on K-12 education has increased, he thinks Kansas schools aren’t seeing improvement. He argued for spending 75 cents of every dollar on classroom instruction.
“I would say we need to look at where we're spending the money before we start shoveling more money at the problem,” he said.
Orman said the best way to improve Kansas schools is by growing the economy and improving Kansas infrastructure. "With a growing economy, parents have better jobs.”
Kelly has repeatedly described herself as the "education candidate" while campaigning. During the debate, she brought up Brownback’s tax cuts, saying the resulting cuts needed to balance the budget put Kansas schools in dire straights. She said voting for Kobach as governor would lead to new tax cuts and more problems for schools.
Protections for LGBT employees
Moderators asked the candidates whether they would reinstate an executive order from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius that protected state employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Brownback rescinded the order early in his second term.
Four of the five candidates said they would reinstate the order, with Kelly adding that she’d take it to the Legislature to have those protections codified into law. Kobach was the lone dissenter, but didn’t explain his stance.
Kobach, Kelly and Orman will meet in Wichita again later this month at a conference for the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.
The Kansas News Service is a statewide collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics.