LAWRENCE — Three candidates for Kansas governor denounced persistent hostility toward immigrants by former Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach as immoral and economically destructive.
Democratic candidates Josh Svaty and Jim Ward and Republican candidate Jim Barnett said during a forum at the University of Kansas they were troubled by years of anti-immigrant dialogue from the two Kansas GOP heavyweights and comparable Twitter rhetoric favored by President Donald Trump.
Hard-working immigrants from around the world daily contribute to Kansas' $15 billion agriculture economy by filling personnel voids at livestock packing plants, in crop fields and on landscaping crews.
Svaty, a former state legislator and Kansas agriculture secretary, said one of his siblings teaches students in Liberal who cap a day at high school with an eight-hour shift at National Beef.
"Anyone that is that dedicated to bettering themselves and bettering their community deserves a chance. We have a moral obligation as a people to help support them," he said.
"I want to make this statement clear," said Barnett, a former state senator. "Our workforce in Kansas should be here legally. On the other hand, let's recognize that if we get the wrong governor that doesn't respect the issues involved with migrant labor in this state, it will kill agriculture. It will bring western Kansas to an end."
Ward, leader of Democrats in the Kansas House, said the image of Kansas was tarnished by misguided campaigns of Brownback and Kobach to intimidate migrants. While serving as governor, Brownback blocked use of state resources to help relocate immigrants from certain countries. Kobach has attempted for years to drive undocumented immigrants from the country.
"We cannot waste people," Ward said. "We can no longer play the game, 'You can't play because you are a girl. Or, you can't play because of the color of your skin. Or, you can't play because of who you worship as God. Or, you can't play because of who you love.' "
Democratic candidate Carl Brewer, a former Wichita mayor, arrived at the conclusion of the forum after helping someone with a stalled car. Jeff Cardwell, a Johnson County candidate with the Libertarian Party, said he wasn't welcomed by the Student Legislative Awareness Board to participate because he hadn't raised more than $20,000 and hadn't visited a minimum of 40 counties during his campaign.
Gov. Jeff Colyer, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and Kobach signed an agreement with the Kansas Republican Party to participate only in joint appearances sanctioned by the Kansas GOP.