Overland Park Five months before the general election, Atty. Gen. Phill Kline and challenger Paul Morrison were in full campaign mode Saturday.
Morrison, the Johnson County district attorney who has been a prosecutor for 26 years, said the race represented "form versus substance."
"You want an attorney general who has spent over half his life ... prosecuting criminals and effectively putting them away to keep this community safe, or do you want a career politician who has had precious little experience in actual practice of law?" Morrison asked.
But Kline, a Republican seeking re-election to a four-year term, defended his legal experience and job performance.
Kline said that under his leadership, the office's criminal caseload has doubled, and Medicaid fraud collections have increased from $1.4 million in the seven years before his taking office in 2003 to $12 million since.
He also said he has helped win water rights cases for the state and touted his defense of the Kansas death penalty before the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the issue.
It was the first meeting between Kline and Morrison and occurred before a crowd of approximately 200 people, mostly lawyers, at the Kansas Bar Assn. annual meeting at the Marriott Hotel. Neither Kline nor Morrison has drawn a primary opponent, so at this point, the two will face each other in the Nov. 7 general election.
More about the race
- Kline to kick off re-election campaign (06-10-06)
- Morrison fires opening shots in race (06-07-06)
- Johnson County DA Morrison files for state attorney general (06-06-06)
- Chat with Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline (02-09-06)
- Chat transcript with Paul Morrison, Democratic candidate for attorney general (11-10-05)
After Morrison mentioned that he was a stalwart supporter of the recently approved law - known as Jessica's law - that increased the sentencing of sex criminals, Kline said, "It's nice to know you supported Jessica's law, Paul, because I didn't see any testimony on behalf of that."
Morrison said that Kline, a former legislator, had voted against a bill to increase the penalty for some murders from 40 years in prison to 50 years in prison. Kline said he voted against the bill because it also reduced the punishments for several other violent offenses.
The two candidates also differed on the method of selecting appellate judges.
Kline said he supports a method of selecting appellate judges that would include requiring Senate confirmation.
Morrison said he opposed that plan, saying the current system works well and keeps the judiciary independent of the politics.
Currently, appellate judges are appointed by the governor from a list of nominees screened by a committee. The judges then stand for retention elections.
Morrison also has criticized Kline for spending $30,000 in preparation to present the state's case in the death penalty arguments before the Supreme Court. Kline has argued the expenses were much less than his predecessor, Carla Stovall, spent to prepare for a Supreme Court case.
On Saturday, Kline said he took seriously the responsibility of representing the state before the Supreme Court and that Morrison's criticisms were a "disservice."
Morrison also criticized Kline for seeking the medical records of 90 women who have sought abortions. He said that "loss of focus" distracts from more important issues, and he said not one prosecution has resulted from the investigation.
Kline has said he is investigating possible instances of illegal late-term abortions and child abuse.