GARDEN CITY — Independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman greeted a crowd of over 70 local supporters and onlookers Monday, speaking about the importance of growing Kansas' economy and why he felt he still had a stake in the governor's race.
Over halfway through a weeklong, statewide campaign tour, Orman stopped by Samy's Spirits and Steakhouse.
Orman, who lives in Johnson County, is far from a southwest Kansas native but found connections in his running mate, Sen. John Doll of Garden City.
Doll opened the event, telling the crowd it was good to be home. They cheered.
Doll, who became an Independent earlier this year to join Orman's ticket, explained how he came to be by his fellow candidate's side, saying Orman had reached out to him partially because of Doll's passion for rural Kansas.
"Greg and I met three or four more times. Just, every time I walked away more and more impressed," Doll said.
With Orman, most points traced back to a central theme: growing the state's economy through multi-tiered economic development.
When speaking about the public's access to healthcare, he addressed how healthcare rates affected how much companies could pay employees, causing, he said, a wage stagnation. Critical "pillars of our communities," including public schools, hospitals and infrastructure, could only be "protected" and improved with proper funding, he said.
He said the courts gave "specific direction" on what the state needs to do to meet its mandate of adequate and equitable education funding, and he was willing to invest in economic development and cut spending in other areas to effectively fund "our other priorities."
Kansas spent too much money in an economic "border war" with Missouri to acquire and retain businesses, he said, as well as on policing, trying and incarcerating young people for using and selling marijuana.
"I believe that there are tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of dollars that we can redirect in our $17 billion budget so that we can invest in our priorities like infrastructure, like career and technical education, so we can meet the Supreme Court's mandate on public schools, ultimately (providing) critical access to regional hospitals. Again, deliver better results for less money," Orman said.
And that bolstered, balanced economy needed to be held accountable with government transparency, Orman said.
"We need to have transparency of results..." he said. "The only way we know if we're getting our money's worth is if a journalist comes out and writes an article pointing out an issue. We need to have an annual report card, we need to define the objectives we're trying to accomplish, we need to measure outcomes and we need to tell the people of Kansas, 'Here's what you're getting for all the money you entrust us with.'"
To a question about his feelings on the LGBTQ community, he said he would never sign any legislation that discriminates against any group.
Orman was openly critical of his opponents, Republican candidate Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Democratic candidate Sen. Laura Kelly. Kobach manufactured the issue of widespread voter fraud to get votes, Orman said, and Kelly, by voting for a 2011 voter fraud bill, "gave up the moral authority to stand with tens of thousands of Kansans who had their vote taken away from them because she was afraid of a postcard..."
Doll expanded on Orman's criticisms, saying that conservative legislators would not work with Kelly, but would work with him and Orman.
"Most of us here understand that a vote for Kobach is going to be very harmful to our economy. That's just the reality of it ... Being a legislator -- you have to be a legislator to understand this, I think -- if we elect Laura Kelly, we're going to be stuck in the mud for two years ... The only way we're going to move Kansas forward, especially rural Kansas, especially here, is with Greg," Doll said.
Orman has been a resilient footnote on a heated gubernatorial race. According to a recent poll by Emerson University, while Kobach and Kelly are nearly tied at 37 and 36 percent, respectively, Orman sits quietly behind at 9 percent.
The Independent candidate, criticized for potentially splitting the Democratic vote, maintained to the crowd that he was still in the race.
He claimed polls were run by partisan organizations and often underrepresented the 31 percent of Independents in Kansas. He said he had heard voters from both sides of the aisle show concern that voting for Orman would lead to a party victory they did not want. His solution: abandon fear of a dual system he saw as broken and commit to voting for him.
"Our challenge is to get Independents out to vote ... and if we get them to the polls, we are going to win. There are a lot of Republicans that don't want to vote for Kobach, but they are never going to vote for a Democrat. There are actually a number of Democrats who aren't particularly enamored with Kelly. So, I think we are going to get a fair number of Democrats, a fair number of Republicans, but our challenge is going to get Independents out to vote," Orman said.