WICHITA — Democratic gubernatorial candidates Carl Brewer and Laura Kelly pounced on Joshua Svaty, after he said in a debate Friday night that he would veto legislation containing any further restrictions regarding abortion.
“Interesting,” began Brewer, the former mayor of Wichita. He said he didn’t think he had the right to tell his children what to do with their bodies.
“Kansas has almost nowhere else to go,” State Sen. Kelly said, noting that Kansas is one of the most restrictive states in the country. “We need to be proactive in this,” she said. Addressing education will be her first priority as governor, she said, but reproductive rights “will be very high on my radar screen.”
Svaty and Kelly, in particular among the trio, jousted during the debate sponsored by the 4th Congressional District Committee. About 175 people attended the event at The Lux, including Chris Morrow, the former Gardner mayor who is Brewer's running mate, and State Sen. Lynn Rogers, Wichita, who is Kelly's running mate.
Asked about economic development in rural Kansas, Kelly, of Topeka, touted the knowledge of Rogers, who has about decades of experience as an agricultural banker. Svaty, a former Kansas Agriculture Secretary who has farmland in Ellsworth County, scoffed at Kelly’s claims about Rogers’ expertise about rural Kansas.
Svaty said he had picked musk thistle that day and the weed was in the back of his pickup. Svaty said his banker was “hugely important to me,” but he’s not on the farm at 7 a.m. yanking out musk thistle and noticing the dry conditions.
Svaty also poked at Kelly for her vote for a gun owners’ bill that she realized later went too far and questioned how she had voted in 2011 on Secretary of State Kris Kobach's voter ID bill. His signature legislation sailed through both chambers of the Legislature.
Kelly reacted by saying Svaty voted 11 times to restrict women’s reproductive rights, including a vote to override Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto. Also, he has voted with the NRA position, she said.
The candidates shared a desire to focus on improving education and management of state agencies and expanding Medicaid.
Kelly decried that the state effectively lost $2.5 billion by not taking federal dollars to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, but noted that the Legislature had passed the necessary legislation last year and Republican Gov. Sam Brownback vetoed it.
It’s not enough to say “we were so close,” Svaty said after Kelly’s comment.
Svaty and Brewer spoke of the positive boost to the Kansas economy if marijuana was decriminalized and legalized.
“It’s about diversifying our economy,” Brewer said.
“It took us eight years to pass the hemp bill,” Kelly said, and that is a limited hemp agricultural bill. A medical marijuana bill could not get through, she noted.
Randy Rathbun, a Wichita attorney who is chairman of the committee sponsoring the debate, wrote the questions for the candidates. One asked them what they could do to ensure equality to the right to vote.
“Beat Kris Kobach,” Kelly said.
Secretary of State Kobach is running in the Republican primary for governor, and he and Gov. Jeff Colyer are considered leading candidates in that contest.
Democrats need a ticket that will prevail in the November general election, the debaters agreed. “It’s a must,” Kelly said.
They differed on which ticket had the best chance.
Brewer cited Fort Hays State University's Docking Institute poll that showed he had the top name recognition among the Democratic candidates.
Svaty and his running mate, Katrina Gier Lewison, are each young working parents, Svaty pointed out. “We represent the future,” he said, and their ticket offers a “bright, positive vision for the future.”
Kelly has been in the State Senate 14 years and has forged ties with moderate Republicans in the Senate.
“Kansas has been going through a world of hurt,” Kelly said, “We need a strong, experienced, steady leader at the helm,” she said.”There are not enough Democrats in the state of Kansas to elect a Democrat,” she said, and she could attract the support of Republican voters unwilling to vote for Kobach or for Colyer, who was Brownback's lieutenant governor for seven years before becoming governor this year.
Kelly said she won her first State Senate race in a largely Republican district by campaigning hard and knocking on doors in areas she was told she couldn’t win. Svaty noted that Kelly won her district by a close vote, while he ran at age 22 in a Republican House District and claimed 66 percent of the vote in his first race.
None of the candidates mentioned the other two Democrats who will appear on the Aug. 7 ballot but weren’t invited to participate in the debate because they were considered the least likely to win, Jack Bergeson and Arden Andersen.