HUTCHINSON — Democrats seeking to wrest Cedar Crest from Republican control for nearly eight years criticized Republicans’ response to trade tariffs affecting Kansas farmers, ranchers and manufacturers, during a candidate forum Monday evening in Hutchinson.

Four Democrats running for governor - Wichita teen Jack Bergeson, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, family physician Arden Andersen of Olathe, and former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty - along with State Sen. Laura Kelly’s running mate, State Sen. Lynn Rogers, Wichita, participated in a 90-minute forum that drew about 85 people to the Stringer Fine Arts Center.

“These tariffs are growing to destroy us,” Brewer said.

The silence coming from the governor’s office has been “deafening,” Rogers said, and federal lawmakers from Kansas are not standing up for Kansas farmers, he also said.

“This issue is personal,” said Svaty, whose principal products on his Ellsworth County farm are sorghum and beef. “Those export markets are extremely important,” he said.

Bergeson said Kansas needs to look at forming trade alliances directly with other countries such as China. Brewer also spoke of the state taking the initiative.

Andersen said Kansas farmers need to become more independent of the federal government,

Kelly had a prior campaign engagement in Emporia. Svaty has attacked her voting record in other candidate debates. It’s time to get a “salty,” he said at one point Monday, when he poked at Kelly’s vote with Republicans in a move that effectively enabled former Gov. Sam Brownback to thwart Medicaid expansion.

Rogers and Andersen disagreed on how much money for K-12 schools gets into the classroom. Andersen said it was a little over 50 cents of each dollar, citing a report. Rogers said it was about 80 cents of each dollar because librarian salaries and electricity, for example, aren’t classified as classroom spending.

Candidates largely tended to stress their agendas rather than disagree directely with each other. Points made included:

• Andersen: Health care is the top issue facing the state. "We have to overhaul the system," he said, and "everyone needs to have health care." He does not have a political background but recent elections in other states have shown that “the old cronyism isn’t working," he said. For revenue, the state has to look at sources who can give up money, and referred to “deep pockets.”

• Bergeson: He advocated for the legalization of marijuana and using related tax revenues for education. He also promoted rail development, elimination of sales tax on food, and a restructuring of income tax.

• Brewer: He called for the creation of economic development regions. Policymakers should be a tool to help the regions and not dictate to them, he said. The state needs new ideas and “inclusion." He said he knows corporate taxpayers are not paying their fair share. Businesses would rather pay taxes and not have an additional burden put on the middle class and poor, he said.

• Rogers: Kelly is the only candidate who has stood up to Brownback and now-Gov. Jeff Colyer, fighting to overturn the Brownback tax cuts. Rogers said it was projected 190,000 would benefit from the elimination of income tax on some corporations, but over 400,000 weren’t paying. What voters are saying is that their government isn't listening to them, he said. 

• Svaty: The economy is moving in the right direction, outside of agriculture, he said. He spoke of the need to reduce or eliminate the sales tax on food. The next administration has to focus on mid-major cities, such as Hutchinson, Salina, and McPherson, where retail stores are closing because of online purchasing. It’s time for the next generation to step forward, said the 38-year-old.

The candidates sounded a welcoming note when asked about immigration. They also want teachers to receive fair wages. 

One question pointedout  that the Reno County city of Pretty Prairie has dealt for years with a water-quality problem compelling the city to distribute bottled water to households with infants,  pregnant women, and nursing mothers.

It is “sort of the flagship community for this problem,” said Svaty, noting his familiarity with the community's water issue. 

Educating farmers on how to use nitrogen is at the crux of the problem, in Andersen's view. That needs to occur to prevent the problem of high nitrates in the water, he said.

Rogers credited Brownback with having a water vision for the long term. Unfortunately, he said, because of budget issues the state has not fully funded the water plan. 

Brewer advocated exploration of water conservation, and Bergeson said the state needs to keep up with cities and counties so a Flint, Michigan, does not happen here.

The winner of the Aug. 7 Democratic primary will share space on the Nov. 6 general election ballot with a Republican nominee, a Libertarian candidate, and probably two independent candidates for governor. The Democrats indicated they see a path to victory.

“People are ready for a change here in the state of Kansas,” Brewer said. Svaty thinks people are tired of politics as usual.

Rogers said Kelly and he are committed to supporting the Democratic nominee and he tagged Colyer “Brownback 2.0” and Secretary of State Kris Kobach “Brownback 2.0 on steroids.”

Kansans are interested in issues, Andersen said.

People are ready to end corporate dominance, Bergeson said.