Candidates face off in KS gubernatorial forum

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) Come Nov. 6, Kansas will have a new governor.

Tuesday night the five candidates running for the position participated in our Eyewitness News Campaign 2018 gubernatorial forum in partnership with WIBW and KMUW.

Jeff Caldwell (L), Laura Kelly (D), Rick Kloos (I), Kris Kobach (R) and Greg Orman (I) all joined us in the KWCH-12 studio in hopes of swaying Kansans ahead of election day.

Tuesday night was contentious as all five candidates weighed in on hot-button issues including healthcare and Medicaid expansion, immigration, gun laws, school funding and taxes.

When it comes to school funding, the candidates were in general agreement that teachers should be rewarded. Kobach said, however, that the state needs to take a hard look at how schools are spending money. He said K-12 spending has been increasing, but the state hasn't seen results with test scores remaining flat. He expressed a concern with a higher rate of growth with administrators over teachers and students.

Caldwell said without raising taxes, he'd like to see the state utilize new sources of revenue including cannabis legalization and legalized sports betting. He said the state could help fund schools by earmarking chunks of new revenue sources to pay for education.

Orman said it's up to legislators on how to fund schools and the key to solving the connecting financing issue is to grow the state's economy, creating a wider tax base. He said his wife is a public school teacher who expressed that "the best education plan is a growing economy."

Kelly said teaching children is the most important thing Kansas does and that a true increase in education funding really didn't kick in until last year's court mandate. She said going back on the court's mandate or cutting taxes that go toward public schools would lead to larger classroom sizes, program cuts and teachers leaving the state.

Kloos agreed with Kobach in the sense that more funding should go to teachers, but he said students should be seen as an asset and not a liability. He said the school funding issue is one that shouldn't have to be decided at the Supreme Court level.

On healthcare, Kobach stood alone in opposing Medicaid expansion. He said Kansans can't afford it as the total cost to do so would exceed the projection.

"We need to think about where we spend money and how to make it more efficient," he said. "Don't break the back of the taxpayer.

In discussing taxes, each candidate sought to appeal to the average Kansas taxpayer. Kloos said he is for cutting taxes, but the biggest driver for revenue is to promote the state, growing the population and the economy with it.

Kobach said Kansans have a heavy tax burden he'd alleviate. He said Kansans need property tax relief and the state must address its high sales tax, including on food.

Orman cited his success as a business owner in the private sector and said the key to making sure Kansans are fairly taxed is to make sure every dollar is spent prudently so the state can invest in its priorities.

Caldwell said before the government looks at cutting taxes, it first needs to cut spending so tax cuts can be implemented responsibly without putting the state in further debt.

Kelly pointed out that she led a bipartisan effort to roll back Sam Brownback's massive tax breaks meant to benefit Kansas businesses. She said the state is now on the road to recovery and the talk of possibly reinstating tax cuts like Brownback's "sends shivers down (her) spine" with likely cuts to state programs.

On the topic of illegal immigration, Orman and Kloos shared similar thoughts that while border security is important, there can be ways to hold undocumented immigrants accountable without damaging industries in which they've been able to find work.

Kelly said immigration reform is crucial as the state's economy is dependent on it.

"I will be the voice for farmers, ranchers and manufacturers," she said.

Kelly disputed a claim from Kobach that said illegal aliens cost the state $377 million every year in benefits and welfare. She said illegal immigrants are not eligible for welfare benefits.

Kobach backed his claim and said the state needs "to stop rewarding (illegal immigration), end sanctuary counties in the state and "put safety and economic stability in Kansans first."

The candidates also differed on varying approaches to gun legislation and balancing sensible laws with Kansans' rights to carry. Kobach touted his 'A" rating with the National Rifle Association, saying he supports expanding the Second Amendment for Kansans and "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

Eyewitness News will host two other forums including the races for U.S. House seats in the Big First and Fourth districts.

U.S. House Dist. 1 Forum
Tuesday, Oct. 16th at 6:30 p.m.
Alan LaPolice (D) and Roger Marshall (R) will join us in-studio for a 30-minute forum.

U.S. House Dist. 4 Forum
Wednesday, Oct. 17th at 6:30 p.m.
Ron Estes (R) and James Thompson (D) will join us in-studio for a 30-minute forum.