OVERLAND PARK — Before the Republican candidates for governor took the stage Thursday night for the final party-backed debate, House Speaker Ron Ryckman warned the crowd at Johnson County Community College that things could get heated.
With tensions escalating between Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, told a nearly full auditorium he had been asked to issue a heat advisory.
Colyer and Kobach joined Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and Patrick Kucera, a self-anointed evangelical entrepreneur, for their most animated debate yet — sparring over who responded quickest to an altered flag and records on taxes, abortion and immigration.
They paced along a stage in front of the energetic Republican base, sometimes drawing cheers or boos for bitter remarks.
Right away, Colyer stoked supporters by railing against the "desecrated flag" that was flying Wednesday at the University of Kansas.
"I was appalled to see this happen," Colyer said. "When I found out about it, I could not believe it."
He described the flag as a symbol of unity, hope and prosperity. Colyer said he promptly called the university's chancellor to request that it be taken down.
Kobach asked the crowd if they thought it was funny how people suddenly talk about being conservatives during election season. He said he, too, called upon KU to remove the flag — four hours before the governor.
And more importantly, Kobach said, the flag was simply moved inside as part of a museum display rather than taken down completely.
"You don’t want a governor who declares a symbolic victory," Kobach said.
Colyer revisited his criticism of Kobach for taking his campaign manager, Rep. J.R. Claeys, R-Salina, with him to Texas for the final day of the legislative session while a bill to cut taxes hung in the balance. Kobach said Claeys joined him because House leadership determined there weren't enough votes to pass the bill, which failed by four votes.
Kucera and Selzer brushed aside a question about which tax is the worst. Under pressure to answer more directly, Selzer said the question didn't make any sense. The solution to the state's problems, as he is fond of saying, is to "lean in on costs."
Kobach took at jab at "these two," motioning over his shoulder toward Kucera and Selzer, for not answering the question. He and Colyer agreed that property tax is the worst and that any new revenue collected through internet sales tax should be used to offset taxes elsewhere.
That led Colyer to remind people that Kobach once voted to raise an excise fee while serving as a councilman in Overland Park. Kobach responded with an intentionally exhaustive explanation of what an excise fee is, complete with a reference to cement prices, to underline his point that the fee helped to cut property taxes.
"So there you go, Jeff," he said.
At one point, Kobach pointed to the governor to accuse him of spreading "half-truths and giant lies." Toward the end of the night, Colyer reminded the crowd that only one candidate has been fined by a federal judge for lying to the court and compared Kobach to a show horse who thinks he is a war horse.
After a particularly lively exchange between the two, Selzer softly sauntered to the front of the stage and smiled.
"I hope you see me as a calm and sensible business person," Selzer said.
Kobach described the race ahead of the Aug. 7 primary as a "friendly scrimmage." But he cautioned his peers not to beat each other bloody before the general election.
All candidates pledged to support the eventual winner.