Four of the Republican gubernatorial candidates and lieutenant governor candidate Tracey Mann discussed the role of state government and school finance, among other topics, at a forum Wednesday at Garden City High School that gave candidates a chance to expound on their policy ideas and talking points.
The Garden City Chamber of Commerce organized and moderated the forum, placing locals face to face with the candidates — former state Sen. Jim Barnett, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and evangelist Patrick Kucera, with Mann representing Gov. Jeff Colyer’s campaign. Teenage candidates Tyler Ruzich and Dominic Scavuzzo were not present.
Mann said in his opening statement that Colyer sent his greetings but had obligations on the other side of the state. Colyer attended the America First Policies conference with Vice President Mike Pence in Kansas City. Mo., earlier in the day and had other obligations in east Kansas in the evening, according to Mann’s communications director.
Each candidate opened and closed with two-minute statements and participated in a question-and-answer session with questions from local community members.
Questions focused on the role of state government in general, regarding local governing bodies and regarding the divide between rural and urban regions of the state, as well as topical issues like school finance, transportation, rural broadband, child welfare and Medicaid expansion.
Each candidate made an effort to distinguish his campaign from the other four. Mann noted endorsements for Gov. Colyer by the Kansas Farm Bureau, Kansas For Life and Kansas State Troopers Association. Kucera stood to answer every question and emphasized his role as an entrepreneurial outsider. Barnett spoke in favor of Medicaid expansion, and Kobach and Selzer both boasted about their rural Kansas backgrounds, either past or present.
With the exception of Mann, the candidates each criticized the Colyer and former Gov. Sam Brownback’s administrations on several topics -- Barnett calling Colyer’s tax experiment a “disaster” and speaking against Brownback’s treatment of the state’s mental health programs, and Kobach saying the governor had not done enough to restructure the Department for Children and Families or stabilize the state healthcare system.
In his closing statement, Kobach said Colyer’s campaign and groups supporting it had sponsored negative ads against him containing “massive, slanderous lies.” When asked about the campaigns, Mann said he did not follow all of Kobach’s final statement but said he wanted Kansans to understand the differences between Colyer and Kobach’s campaigns’ views on education.
Candidates mainly expanded on and reiterated the key policies of their campaigns. Selzer and Kucera both discussed a business-centric mindset when approaching the state, with Selzer focusing on efficiency and Kucera on innovation. Kucera repeated an interest in emphasis on hemp production in the state to create jobs and keep people in the state.
“We need to make Kansas grow. We’ve had a disastrous, disastrous economy here in Kansas ... Other economies are driven by (agriculture). They did better than we did. We need new leadership in the governor’s office, or we will always lag our peers in surround states,” Selzer said.
Kucera and Kobach both mentioned President Donald Trump, Kucera calling him a visionary leader that relies on professionals skilled in other areas, praising his America-first mentality and saying that he gave power to the people by taking power away from the press. Kobach said he speaks to Trump regularly and could use the connection to waive elements of the Affordable Care Act for Kansas, should he be elected.
Mann said the Colyer campaign suppors a constitutional amendment that would prevent the Kansas Supreme Court from ruling on the adequacy of funding given to state schools. Kobach also showed skepticism in the court’s place in the school finance decision and said a solution was not giving schools more money, but seeing how it was spent and potentially basing funding on schools’ success.
Kucera said he had seen schools in other parts of the world find success with little money, and instead pushed for a systematic change of the way students were taught, while Selzer discussed emphasizing accountability and efficiency programs to push schools to make more use of their funding.
Barnett said he did not support the constitutional amendment Mann discussed and said the state did not currently adequately fund education but was getting close.
“We need separation of powers, and we need the court, and we can’t pick and choose when we have the court,” Barnett said.