Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Democratic challenger Paul Davis battered each other during an energized debate at the Kansas State Fair. The two clashed on a series of topics, including wind energy in Kansas. KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports.
Davis accused Brownback of flip-flopping on the issue of the Renewable Portfolio Standard, or RPS. It requires electric utilities in Kansas to have 20 percent renewable energy sources by 2020. Davis says he would veto any bills to repeal it because it drives wind energy development in Kansas.
“We need certainty, the wind industry needs certainty. They need a governor who’s going to stand behind them, because this is critical to the future of our economy,” says Davis.
Recently, Brownback said he would be open to a phase-out of the renewable energy standard. But Brownback also points out that Davis initially voted against the RPS because it was part of a deal to build a new coal fired power plant in Kansas.
“And by the way, I supported the renewable portfolio, the tax credits federally. I’ve supported those, and that’s what’s doubled wind energy in the state. I will stand second to nobody on support for wind,” says Brownback.
The debate excluded the Libertarian candidate in the race, Keen Umbehr. He stood silently at the edge of the stage during the event.
Republican Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and Democratic challenger Paul Davis traded blows at the Kansas State Fair over the weekend as they met for their first formal debate. KPR’s Stephen Koranda was there and has this report.
It was a packed house in Hutchinson in the arena where the debate was held. Before it even started, an energized crowd chanted and cheered.
When Davis and Brownback took the stage they hit on some common themes they’ve been repeating on the election trail. Brownback touted the current economic conditions in Kansas, pointing to a record number of working Kansans and a tax plan aimed at growing business.
“We want to make this state the best place in America to raise a family and grow a small business. And we're a long way along our path to being able to do that and we’re going to keep pushing that dream, keep pushing that model,” says Brownback.
Davis, the top Democratic lawmaker in the Kansas House, called himself a “moderate,” and an “independent thinker.” He pitched the message that Kansas isn’t heading in the right direction and he could help change that.
“I’ve been a champion for our public schools. I’ve been a 15-year member of my chamber of commerce, I know how to make a payroll. That’s why I’m supported by over 100 current and former Republican elected officials,” says Davis.
On the issue of education, Davis hammered Brownback for early in his term reducing in the base state aid per pupil. That’s one of the building blocks of classroom spending.
“He implemented the largest single cut to public school funding in state history and he called it a victory,” says Davis.
Brownback says the cut was because of the loss of federal stimulus dollars put into the budget by Davis and others before Brownback took office. Brownback says the total amount spent on Kansas schools has grown under his administration.
“And we have put a record amount of money in K-12 education and we’re going to continue to spend and spend aggressively for K-12 education in the state of Kansas,” says Brownback.
The two tangled over the issue of expanding Medicaid. Davis calls expanding the health care program critical to help rural hospitals.
“We can inject $3 billion into our state’s economy, we can create lots of jobs. I’m not going to play politics with this. I’m going to follow what other Republican governors are going to do. Chris Christie in New Jersey, Jan Brewer in Arizona. That's what we should do,” says Davis.
Brownback amounts Davis’s proposal to implementing Obamacare.
“Obamacare took money from Medicare, which goes to our rural hospitals and put it into Medicaid, which doesn’t go as much, and he supports Obamacare. That’s taking money directly from our rural hospitals. He shouldn't have supported Obamacare in the first place. That's not the place to do it,” says Brownback.
When looking at the state budget, Brownback repeated the message that his administration has made a fiscal turnaround, from facing a deficit to money in the bank. And he says Davis helped create the poor finances in place when he took office, even calling Davis the “Nancy Pelosi of Kansas.”
“For a long time he’s just been saying ‘the sky is falling, the sky is falling.’ The sky fell while he ran the place. Our budget was in a catastrophe and our KPERS system was in the bankruptcy zone and it now isn’t. We’re going to continue to perform and perform well in having a good, solid budget,” says Brownback.
Davis says Brownback is trying to shift the blame and the state is headed for fiscal trouble. Non-partisan legislative researchers project a more than $200 million deficit in 2016. Davis lays that budget shortfall squarely at the feet of Brownback.
“We are in this situation of debt, debt, debt down the road because of the governor's economic experiment. $1.3 billion over the next five years. That is jeopardizing the quality of education for an entire generation of Kansas kids, including my daughter,” says Davis.
Davis says the tax cuts Brownback fought for should be frozen in early 2015, which would reduce the deficit, but wouldn’t fully eliminate it. Brownback says Davis’s proposal is a tax increase.
The rules for the debate excluded Libertarian candidate Keen Umbehr. He stood silently at the edge of the stage during the hour-long event.
This was the first formal face-to-face debate between the candidates. While the schedules haven’t been finalized, it appears there will be several more debates before the election in November.