Wichita — Republican gubernatorial challenger Jim Barnett says he wants to see a change in how Kansas Supreme Court justices are appointed, but Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius said she favors the current system.
The two candidates debated Monday at a Rotary Club meeting in Wichita, during which Barnett argued that having attorneys involved in the Supreme Court nominating process creates a conflict of interest.
A nine-member nominating commission, five of whom are attorneys, screens applications from prospective justices and picks three finalists. The final choice then rests with the governor.
"I really have concerns the current process has resulted in a Kansas Supreme Court that does not reflect the values of Kansans," Barnett said.
Barnett also criticized some Supreme Court decisions, including a 2005 ruling on the constitutionality of the state's school financing system that forced legislators to increase spending. He said that decision led to the court essentially appropriating money.
Barnett proposed a system that mirrors the federal system, in which the governor would appoint justices and the Senate would confirm them, with no nominating commission.
But Sebelius noted that the process was put in place in Kansas nearly 50 years ago to correct what was seen as an overly political system.
Sebelius, who is seeking a second term, said it would be dangerous to change the selection process because people don't like the court's decisions.
"I think the process has served us very well and I don't know that anybody can watch what happened in Washington, D.C., with the nomination of justices and think that somehow that is not a political process," she said.
State Board of Education
The candidates also disagree on whether the State Board of Education should retain its power of education policy, with Sebelius saying again Monday that she would support a change.
The governor said the current school board isn't accountable to taxpayers, parents and business leaders. Its 10 members are elected and pick a commissioner to run the Department of Education.
"Frankly it has become somewhat of an embarrassment as I travel across the country. People often know about the work of our school board - and they don't think very highly about it. It is not very good economic development," she said. "I'd like to see a school board that works more closely with the Legislature."
Barnett, a state senator from Emporia, said he would make some changes to the board, including giving it an odd rather than even number of members to avoid tie votes. But he said he supports the current system and does not want to disenfranchise Kansans on the issue of education.
"I do not support taking the right to vote away from people, and to me this is a fundamental issue," Barnett said. "We may or may not like some of the discussions, some of the decisions, but the system works."
Sebelius has criticized the Board of Education's majority for drafting science standards last year seen as anti-evolution.
Sebelius has said she will propose a constitutional amendment to allow the governor to appoint a secretary to oversee the Department of Education and make the 10-member board advisory.
The two candidates also split on immigration and voting.
Sebelius said the current system already requires voter registration, at which time the person must show proof of residency and a photo identification. She said there is no indication of voter fraud in Kansas by illegal immigrants.
Barnett said he supported having people show proof of citizenship and a photo identification each time they vote. Such a law was struck down as unconstitutional by Missouri's Supreme Court.