Overland Park Atty. Gen. Phill Kline and challenger Paul Morrison, Johnson County district attorney, mixed it up Sunday over prison sentencing and hiring practices.
"We can do much better than Phill Kline as attorney general," Morrison, a Democrat, said in summarizing his arguments before several hundred people in Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College.
After one of several verbal barrages from Morrison, Kline, a Republican, said, "The falsehoods are stunning."
The two face off in the Nov. 7 general election in one of the most hotly contested statewide races.
The loudest reaction of the debate came when Kline compared Bryan Brown to civil rights leaders. Brown is a former anti-abortion protester with several arrests whom Kline hired in 2003 as director of the consumer affairs division in the attorney general's office.
"He expressed his faith and his opposition to abortion," Kline said, just as Martin Luther King and Rose Parks used civil disobedience to protest laws they opposed.
Morrison supporters groaned and laughed.
For the most part, the debate followed a familiar pattern with Morrison criticizing Kline's investigation of abortion clinics, saying the anti-abortion Kline was pursuing a political agenda instead of devoting resources to law enforcement. Kline has said the subpoena of records from the clinics is necessary to investigate allegations of child rape and illegal late-term abortions.
More on the Kline-Morrison race
- Political use of churches blasted (09-21-06)
- Kline's 'church effort' continues (09-18-06)
- Kline defends leaked memo during debate (09-15-06)
- Kline's memo blurs lines (09-14-06)
- Leaked memo details strategy (09-12-06)
- Kline's memo on church efforts (.pdf)
- Upcoming chat with Phill Kline (submit a question early)
- Campaign Briefing blog
- More in Election 2006
Kline criticized Morrison for helping sponsor legislation that reduced the post-release supervision of some inmates, saying that the legislation, which Kline opposed while a member of the House, led to more crime.
"It was a poor policy," Kline said.
Morrison has said the measure freed up prison space used to incarcerate more violent felons.
Francie Fitzgerald, a Kline supporter, came from Leavenworth to watch the debate. She said she was impressed with the preparation of both candidates but was sticking with Kline.
"I believe he is a truth-teller. We have a great deal of untruth-telling going on," Fitzgerald said.
But Harry Mullins, a Morrison backer, said the Democrat came off as a credible alternative to Kline because of his work in law enforcement as district attorney in the state's most populous county.
"It's a shame we have questions surrounding the legitimacy of the office," Mullins said of Kline.
Many of Morrison's statements focused on controversy swirling around Kline during his term.
"We should expect better," Morrison said.
But Kline defended his record, saying he has worked with the Legislature to toughen laws on sex crimes - especially those involving children - successfully defended the state death penalty statute before the U.S. Supreme Court and helped win complex water rights litigation.