Wichita Attorney General Steve Six on Thursday defended his decision not to join other states in a legal challenge to federal health care reform, while his Republican rival vowed to find a way for Kansas to join that lawsuit.
Six and challenger Derek Schmidt discussed the lawsuit during their first face-to-face debate.
Six said attorneys in his office examined the lawsuit and concluded it had little or no chance of success. He called it an out-of-state venture that would consume resources better spent keeping children safe, fighting Medicaid fraud and protecting consumers — the mission of the attorney general’s office.
“We have had a history in this attorney general’s office, that I have worked for three years to turn around, and that is a history of pursuing political agendas that are important to that particular attorney general and it has driven the office off the cliff,” Six said during the debate, which was sponsored by the Wichita Crime Commission. “Consumer fraud went unchecked, Medicaid fraud went unchecked as particular personal agendas were pursued.”
With his comments, the Democratic attorney general sought to liken Schmidt to former Attorney General Phill Kline, an anti-abortion Republican known for trying to prosecute some of the state’s abortion providers.
Schmidt argued the federal health care law claimed an unprecedented legal authority to order Americans to buy insurance and then subject them federal regulation. He said that precedent should not be allowed to stand.
“I just don’t think defending the Constitution of United States is a personal political agenda. I do not believe standing up for the right of Kansans to decide Kansans’ destiny is a personal political agenda,” Schmidt said, noting that 21 states have joined in the lawsuit.
Six touted his successes since being appointed to the job in January 2008 after a sex scandal involving his immediate predecessor, Paul Morrison, and the controversy involving Kline’s prosecution of abortion providers.
Six cited the establishment of Operation Child Shield to prosecute child pornography cases. Also, he said, the attorney general’s office went from recovering less than a million for consumer complaints under Kline’s leadership to more than $15.6 million in the past year. Recovery of Medicaid fraud went from less than a million to nearly $22 million last year, he said.
At the same time, he said, the office’s budget has been cut by 43 percent as the costs of protecting Kansans was shifted to criminals and scam artists, he said.
“I have restored its integrity. We have established its independence, and I have built the trust back into the office,” Six said. “This election is about experience: who has the experience to lead Kansas and to keep it safe.”
Schmidt contended his work as Senate majority leader in the state Legislature gave Six’s office the tools it’s now using to go after child predators and to increase Medicaid recoveries. He noted he chaired the 2005 Medicaid task force and helped enact those laws.
Six, a former district judge in Douglas County, also cited his experience as a lawyer — arguing appellate cases, handling jury trials, prosecuting murder cases and arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Schmidt is a former assistant attorney general in the consumer division and also is a lawyer in Independence, where he does some work for the municipal courts.
Libertarian candidate Dennis Hawver, another lawyer, acknowledged during the debate he had little chance of getting elected. He said the greatest peril to Kansans is not crime but the encroachment on personal freedoms.
Both Six and Schmidt said they supported the death penalty, while Hawver said he opposes it.