Hutchinson Anger with Washington, D.C., was the major theme Saturday during the first gubernatorial debate between Democrat Tom Holland and Republican Sam Brownback at the Kansas State Fair.
Brownback tried to link Holland to President Barack Obama, while Holland criticized Brownback, a U.S. senator, for his “failed Washington policies.”
The two frequently made allegations against one another during an outdoor debate where hundreds of supporters on each side loudly booed, hissed, cheered and shouted.
Holland, facing long odds against the better-funded and more well-known Brownback, went on offense, criticizing Brownback for saying he wanted to change the public school finance formula but refusing to say how.
Brownback said he wants more school funding dollars to go into the classroom but didn’t offer any details.
In the past, Brownback has said he would like to allow local school districts to raise more money for their schools. Holland has said that would result in local property tax increases.
Holland said Brownback, while in the U.S. Senate, has continually supported special interests and the economic policies that brought on the recent recession.
“Our best days are ahead of us, but only if we keep the failures of Washington, far, far away from Kansas,” said Holland, who is a state senator from Baldwin City.
But Brownback fired back, saying Holland has backed more regulations, higher taxes and “Obamacare.” He said, “We cannot keep on the path that we have seen.”
Brownback said Holland supported the status quo, which has resulted in a loss of private sector jobs and higher taxes.
Holland defended his record in the Legislature, saying he worked with a bi-partisan coalition to reduce the state budget and then approve the taxes needed to prevent further damaging cuts and help fund the state comprehensive transportation plan.
He said Brownback couldn’t be trusted to implement the $8.2 billion, 10-year transportation plan. Holland noted that Brownback’s lieutenant governor running mate, state Sen. Jeff Colyer, R-Overland Park, voted for the transportation plan but against the sales tax increase to help support it. Brownback also has been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which opposed passage of the transportation plan.
After the debate, Brownback said he does support the transportation plan.
On a question about illegal immigration, Holland said he worked with Republicans and Democrats on legislation aimed at holding employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants, while Brownback was on Capitol Hill supporting amnesty.
“Sam, you have been in Congress for 16 years. You are part of the problem,” he said.
But Brownback blamed the Obama administration for the illegal immigration problem. He said the government should complete building a fence on the border between Mexico and the United States. He also said he will support legislation to require a photo ID to vote.
Brownback said he didn’t approve of amnesty for illegal immigrants. Brownback has been a supporter of the so-called Dream Act, which would have allowed in-state tuition for the children of some undocumented immigrants, and provided a way toward permanent residency. The federal legislation was similar to laws that were approved in some states, including Kansas. The federal legislation has never been enacted.
Holland criticized Brownback for recently voting against federal legislation, which if it had not been approved would have shorted Kansas $192 million for schools and health care for the poor. But Brownback got a loud cheer from his supporters when he said, “We have got to stop depending on the federal government.”
Holland responded, “You just heard Mr. Brownback talk about the federal government. He is the federal government.”
The two also tangled over the issue of judicial selection. Brownback said he is open to looking at changes in the way appellate court judges are selected, but Holland defended the current system, saying “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
In closing statements, Brownback accused Holland of being a “dedicated liberal” who favored growing government, while Holland said Brownback wasn’t being upfront with the voters about his plans on school finance, judicial selection and shifting the tax burden to locals.
“Real leaders shouldn’t hide their agenda,” Holland said.
Both sides said there will be more debates before the Nov. 2 election, but none have been scheduled yet. Libertarian Andrew Gray and Reform Party candidate Ken Cannon also are on the ballot but were not invited to Saturday’s debate.