Republicans in crowded field for Kansas governor strain to stand out

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

A crowded race for the Republican nomination for governor in Kansas has candidates looking for ways to stand out.

At a forum held over the weekend in Wichita, the hopefuls signaled how they hope to separate themselves from the field.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach wants primary voters to see him as the true conservative in the contest.

“If you want to see full throttled conservatism in Kansas then I’m your man,” Kobach told a near-capacity crowd at the state GOP convention. “We will go full speed ahead.”

He used a question about property taxes to employ the sort of provocative language that has marked his career, and the campaign in front of him now. Kobach said “stealth” increases in the assessments on his Douglas County farm had made him and his wife “slave farmers.”

“We are growing our crops for Kansas and not ourselves,” he said, claiming it takes nearly all of their relatively small farm income to pay the taxes.

Gov. Jeff Colyer is Kobach’s main rival for the nomination, according to the most recent public poll on the race. He had the flu and sat out the Saturday debate.

The other, lesser-known, candidates pitched themselves as successful business leaders who could bring order to a state government in turmoil.

Willis “Wink” Hartman, a Wichita oil and restaurant businessman who so far has loaned his campaign $1.6 million, said he’s ready to lead a turnaround in Topeka.

“Kansas needs and deserves a CEO with 50 years of experience with multiple companies that have all been successful and have grown,” said Hartman. He lost to eventual winner Mike Pompeo in the 2010 Republican primary in the 4th Congressional District.

But Mark Hutton, the founder of a Wichita-based construction company and a former legislator, wouldn’t concede that ground. He said he brings something to the table that Hartman doesn’t: Statehouse experience.

“I’m the only candidate up here that has 25 years of CEO experience from the ground up building a company … coupled with four years of legislative experience and, more importantly, the relationships that are going to be necessary to move Kansas forward,” Hutton said.

During his four years in the Kansas House, Hutton compiled a conservative voting record but also earned a reputation for independence as one of the first Republicans to call for a rollback of then Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts.

Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer billed himself as a “thoughtful, calm decision-maker,” perhaps in contrast to Kobach’s more combative leadership style. Repeatedly sounding practiced themes, Selzer promised to “lean in” to the job of reining in spending and growing the Kansas economy.

“We are going to make Kansas grow again,” Selzer said. “Remember that.”

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett watched from the sidelines, barred him from the stage by party officials for refusing to sign rules of participation that he said amounted to censorship.

“I’m not going to sign what I think is a debate agreement that is against democracy and the principles of this country,” Barnett said. “I would have spoken the truth and we didn’t hear that tonight. … What we heard tonight was a return to the Brownback/Colyer policies that took our state down to its knees.”

Rather than calling for reduced spending, smaller government and putting the Kansas Supreme Court in its place on the school funding issue, Barnett said he would have advocated for increased education funding and for expanding Medicaid eligibility to an additional 150,000 low-income Kansans.

Barnett was the party’s gubernatorial nominee in 2006 but lost to former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The candidates who participated – Kobach and Hutton in particular – took a hard line on the school funding issue. They insisted it’s the legislature’s job should decide what’s appropriate, not the court.

“We have to clear up this constitutional amendment issue and tell the Supreme Court — the Sebelius Supreme Court — to butt out,” Hutton said.

Kobach cautioned GOP voters against buying the “fake argument” made by supporters of Medicaid expansion that it would help struggling rural hospitals.

“Unfortunately, there are some Republicans who haven’t got the message yet,” he said.

A recent poll by Remington Research Group, a GOP consulting company, showed Kobach and Colyer running neck-and-neck in the early going. Colyer held a 23 percent to 21 percent lead.

Barnett was a distant third at 8 percent, followed by Hutton and Hartman at 5 percent each and Selzer at 3 percent.

The tilt-to-the-right tone of the debate scored well with the Republicans who came from around the state for the convention. For instance, retired Wichita teacher Elaine Fisher agreed with attacks on the Kansas Supreme Court over school funding.

“We need to get away from judges controlling how much money the state has to pay for education,” she said.

But the assault on the state’s high court didn’t resonate with everyone. Bill Clifford, a Garden City ophthalmologist and chair of the Finney County Republican Party, says what works in the convention hall may not work with the cross-section of voters needed to win.

“We have a much broader voting population out there,” the western Kansas Republican said. “All the candidates need to touch that group that wasn’t present in the building tonight.”

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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Kansas 3rd District Congressional candidates discuss issues at forum

About 500 people packed the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Torah Sunday to hear from six of the people running for the 3rd Congressional District seat in Kansas. Incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder did not attend. (Photo by Sam Zeff, KCUR, Kansas News Service)

by Sam Zeff, Kansas News Service

If you want to know how much interest there is in the race for Rep. Kevin Yoder’s congressional seat, you got a pretty good idea at a candidate forum Sunday afternoon.

Some 500 people packed the sanctuary at Congregation Beth Torah in Overland Park to hear the five Democrats and one Libertarian running for Yoder’s seat.

Yoder, a Republican, was invited but didn’t attend.

His campaign spokesman, C.J. Grover, said the forum was hosted by “progressive activists” and that Yoder looks forward to debating the issues this fall with the winner of the Democratic primary.

Clearly, Democrats think Yoder is vulnerable in the district that encompasses Wyandotte and Johnson counties, including Overland Park, Lenexa, Shawnee, Spring Hill, DeSoto and Olathe.

Just last week, a fifth Democrat got into the race: Mike McCamon lives in Overland Park and has a technology background. He joined the race with labor attorney Brent Welder, investor Jay Sidie (who ran against Yoder two years ago), educator Tom Niermann, tech executive Chris Haulmark and Chris Clemmons, the Libertarian who is also an educator.

Many in the audience were wearing “Defeat Yoder” stickers, but there appeared to be an equal number of those uncommitted to his possible opponents.

“I think I lean towards several of them above the others, but overall I was impressed with the quality of what they said,” said George Halper from Overland Park.

“I took a lot of notes. I’m going to really get involved in getting to know better all the candidates,” Janet Powell said, although she said she was leaning toward Welder and Niermann.

There isn’t much daylight on the issues between any of the six men (and they’re all men at this point) on the stage Sunday. But in a series of lightening round questions from moderator Nick Haines of KCPT, the audience did see some differences.

The biggest threat to the United States (in the order they answered the question):
• Niermann—The environment and climate change.
• Welder—Getting rid of President Trump.
• Haulmark—Democracy and diversity.
• McCamon—More caring for our neighbors.
• Sidie—Too much corporate money in politics.
• Clemmons—Erosion of Fourth Amendment and other constitutional rights.

What to do about healthcare:
• Haulmark—Medicare for all.
• McCamon—Disconnect health care from employment.
• Clemmons—Do away with 20-year patents on pharmaceuticals which could lower drug prices.
• Welder—Medicare for all.
• Niermann—Allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices and restore Obamacare individual mandate.
• Sidie—Have a public health insurance option.

• Niermann—Allow Centers for Disease Control to study issue.
• Welder—Reimpose assault weapons ban.
• Sidie—Expose how much money the NRA gives to those in Congress.
• Haulmark—More complete background checks.
• Clemmons—Figure out why “society is sick.” He says people will figure out a way to kill.
• McCamon—Find a better way to keep guns away from criminals.

Sam Zeff is KCUR’s Metro Reporter. Follow him on Twitter @SamZeff. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.
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Here’s who’s snarfing up more money than Kobach in Kansas governor’s race

by Jim McLean, Kansas News Service

Campaign reports filed this week show a bunched field breaking from the starting gate in the Kansas race for governor.

Some handicappers’ favorites — notably Secretary of State Kris Kobach — trail at the rear of the pack. Still, only a few of the dozen candidates thought to hold potentially winning pedigrees appear in danger of fading fast.

Combined, nearly $6 million poured into the race before the state even rang in 2018 — or more than twice where fundraising stood at this point in the state’s last race for governor. The flood of money shows brisk betting on a contest likely to see competitive Republican and Democratic primaries — even as an independent candidate with heavy backing waits to take on the winners.

Crowded and competitive GOP field

The top seven Republican candidates raised more than $4.7 million, roughly half from loans that several made to their campaigns.

Kobach, the perceived front-runner, pulled in just under $355,000. That ranked sixth among the contenders. It led only the roughly $218,000 rounded up by Ed O’Malley, a former Kansas House member who took a leave from his post as CEO of the Kansas Leadership Center to campaign.

A conservative with high name recognition and two statewide election wins, Kobach doesn’t need as much early money as lesser-known candidates, said University of Kansas political scientist Patrick Miller.

“That being said, the headline today is going to be ‘Kobach underperforms expectations,’” Miller said. “That’s not good short-term, but it is only January.”

For O’Malley, Miller said, “it’s hard to find any silver lining” in his last-place finish. What’s more, he trails the other moderate Republican in the race by $350,000. That rival, Topeka doctor and former state senator Jim Barnett, is largely self-funding his campaign.

Miller regularly scours the reports and said Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former Kansas Rep. Mark Hutton posted stronger-than-expected fundraising.

“They both stand out,” he said.

Selzer logged more than $713,000, bolstered by $285,000 in personal contributions. Hutton, the founder of a Wichita-based construction company, donated $200,000 to raise his total to about $582,000.

The $632,000 raised by Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer ranked him among the top three in the Republican field, trailing only candidates who made substantial contributions to their own campaigns. In absolute terms, Colyer raised more money than any of the other candidates.

Wichita oilman Wink Hartman’s $1.8 million in contributions topped the Republican field, though $1.65 million of that came from his personal fortune.

Hartman, who lost a 2010 bid for Congress in the district that includes Wichita, said he intended to largely self-fund his campaign so that he wouldn’t be beholden to special interests.

“When we win this race, we’ll bring conservative business solutions to the Statehouse, not a list of policies sold to the highest bidder,” he said in a media release.

Separation in the Democratic field

Former Kansas Rep. Josh Svaty led the four contenders for the Democratic nomination with nearly $191,000.

But state Sen. Laura Kelly generated the most buzz by raising $155,000 between Dec. 15, when she announced her candidacy, and the Dec. 31 end of the reporting period.

“That’s pretty impressive,” Miller said, noting that the end of the year is one of the hardest times for candidates to raise money.

Kelly’s report includes contributions from former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and several of her supporters. That may suggest that at least some party leaders lacked confidence in Svaty, House Minority Leader Jim Ward and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.

The contribution numbers also suggest that, Miller said. Ward drew less than $91,000 and Brewer pulled in about $45,000.

In an interview, Ward insisted he’ll stay in the race until the August primary.

“It’s still wide open,” he said. “That’s the message that I think the reports tell you.”

Greg Orman, who lost a race for the U.S. Senate in 2014, is running as an independent in the governor’s race. He reported $453,000. Yet unlike the rest of the field, he can save much of his cash for the fall general election.

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to

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