GARDNE CITY — Four of the five Democratic candidates for governor argued key policy and asked for western Kansans' votes at the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce's Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Forum Tuesday night, the follow-up to a Republican forum earlier this month.
The forum, moderated by Finney County Commissioner Lon Pishny, was structured identically to the Republican forum ahead of it, giving each candidate two-minute opening and closing statements and two-minute responses to questions gathered by the chamber.
Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, State Sen. Laura Kelly, Former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture and state Rep. Josh Svaty and high school student Jack Bergeson fielded questions from Pishny, discussing the role of state government, child welfare, infrastructure, school finance and Medicaid. Arden Anderson did not attend Tuesday's forum.
While all candidates supported Medicaid expansion, Bergeson used a portion of his time to echo criticisms he lodged at Kelly at a forum in Wichita last week, accusing her of being hypocritical in her support.
"I must point out that Sen. Kelly and her running mate Lynn Rogers have taken over $3,000 from the for-profit companies that support the privatization of KanCare. These companies have made healthcare harder, have ... ruined healthcare in the state and across the nation. Anyone who takes money from for-profit insurance companies cannot be trusted on the issue of healthcare," Bergeson said.
Bergeson spoke out against Kelly in his closing statement, as well, saying she had lied when calling herself the panel's only "100 percent pro-woman reproductive healthcare rights" candidate. Bergeson said he and Brewer were also entirely pro-choice. Brewer addressed the Kelly ticket's abortion record in his final statements, as well, saying Rogers previously had been involved in the pro-life movement.
Regarding state regulations on business, Brewer and Kelly noted the positives and negatives of the current system, with Kelly touching on problems with enforcement and Brewer on citizen feedback. Svaty praised the system, saying the current regulatory framework worked with and attracted businesses to the state.
Candidates felt similarly about several issues. Svaty, Brewer and Bergeson said the state was still not adequately funding education, though Svaty said lawmakers were closer and that funding for state agencies should be balanced. Kelly said initial issues with school finance would be fixed after the Legislature made adjustments to the funding plan to account for inflation. All candidates referenced staffing or accountability issues when addressing problems with the state's child welfare system.
"We're saying we can do a better job (of caring for foster children) than their parents, so let's demonstrate that. The only way we can do that is bringing these various agencies under one roof and then also simplify and establish an in-line process as to how we actually deal with each and every one of them," Brewer said.
Regarding the role of state government, all candidates placed an emphasis on supporting municipal governments and the aligning or complementary priorities of Kansas' rural and urban communities.
Candidates also catered to their audience, pitching policy to show their support for western Kansas. Brewer highlighted his past support of Kansas export goods, particularly agriculture-based ones, and marketed himself as a proponent of western Kansas industries.
Bergeson, who was highly critical of most of the state's current approaches to policy, pushed for an expanded rail system to boost economic development and give wider access to public transportation.
On the subject of broadband, Svaty discussed Netflix's chokehold on rural Kansas bandwidth, suggesting that the company should pay the state government for the service.
"On broadband deployment, I think it's time that we seriously considered how to leap forward in modernity with this," Svaty said.
Kelly broke down her rural prosperity plan, which she said would place an emphasis on rural communities' needs when considering budget and policy decisions, including those relating to infrastructure.
"We understand that unless we build that infrastructure and maintain it that your communities will never be able to attract and maintain businesses. You got to have that, and you got to have the broadband connection .. Your communities cannot grow if we don't broaden that broadband and make sure that you have regular access, reliable access to the internet," Kelly said.