The Kansas Press Association contracted with former award-winning Wichita Eagle reporter Roy Wenzl to write profiles of the top three Kansas candidates for governor – Laura Kelly, Kris Kobach and Greg Orman. The KPA also compiled profiles of the other two candidates – Jeff Caldwell and Rick Kloos.
To inform its readers, the Great Bend Tribune is presenting these profiles in advance of the statewide gubernatorial debate Tuesday night.
The debate will be held at the KSNW-TV studios in Wichita, from 6-7 p.m., and will be broadcast on live on the station.
The campaigns for Kris Kobach, Republican, Laura Kelly, Democrat, and Greg Orman, Independent, have committed to participating in the debate.
Below are the profiles, with the candidates listed alphabetically:
If Libertarian Party candidate Jeff Caldwell is elected governor of Kansas in November, his first day in office will be a busy one.
His first act will be to pardon all nonviolent cannabis offenses, which he claims will save the state $20 million a year, and he’ll follow that action with an executive order preventing the state from discriminating against any Kansas resident.
“It’s time for legislators to listen to their constituents instead of their buddies and corporate donors,” he said. “I will bring true representation back to Topeka.”
Caldwell, a 32-year-old fourth generation Kansan from Leawood, said other initiatives he will pursue include elimination of the sales tax on food and water, which is one of the highest in the nation, a burden on every Kansan.
“Kansas is one of only seven states in the entire United States that taxes food without a reduced rate or no rate at all,” he said.
He supports the funding of schools, but he believes there is room for a new approach. He would use the savings from full legalization of medical and recreational cannabis and sports betting to cover the cost, rather than relying totally on traditional funding sources.
“Kansas legislators are telling us an improving economy will cover the funding,” he said. But “the unemployment rate in Kansas has been stuck at 3.4 percent for over six months.
“I also will work to pass the Kansas Education Liberty Act … which would bring sources of funding for education from outside of the state. Nonprofit organizations would be created to handle funding next to the current state infrastructure, and the organizations would be funded through donations that are matched with a dollar for dollars tax credit.”
Caldwell said he supports returns education back to local control, but he believes this would require a constitutional amendment to restrict litigation on state aid to districts.
He would couple that with tax credits for corporations to donate more money to the state’s colleges and universities.
One of Caldwell’s chief concerns is governmental transparency. He said he would lead the effort to information citizens of the legislative process.
“I have participated in committee hearings that continuously move, bills get gutted and replaced and legislators’ votes are not recorded when in committee,” he said. Under his administration, “all hearings, sessions and meetings will be recorded, live-streamed and available for public view.”
The Leawood resident said the time has come to overhaul the Department of Children and Families.
“Kansas should launch a complete, comprehensive audit of the DCF, Saint Francis Community Services and KVC Behavioral Healthcare,” he said. “All the abuse and neglect found within the system will be brought to light and handled appropriately. It is time to clean house within Kansas’ child services.
He supports the reintroduction of Kansas House Bill 2751, which would establish the office of the child advocate for children’s protection and services within the Kansas Department of Administration.
The bill creates an ombudsman’s office with the power to investigate, request confidential records, subpoena documents and review how well children are protected by the state.
He is concerned about procedures that in the past have allowed by agencies to hide or eliminate specific details of their failure to protect Kansas children.
His stand on the decriminalization of cannabis use ties in to his belief that children should not be taken away from parents who test positive for THC from marijuana consumption.
Caldwell ran unsuccessfully in 2012 and 2014 for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives.
His running mate is Mary Gerlt.
— Compiled by the Kansas Press Association staff.
BY ROY WENZL
She’s heard the predictions that a Democrat can’t get elected Kansas governor these days. Kansans vote mostly Republican, after all, even in her State Senate District 18.
So, Sen. Laura Kelly knows better than most that the race will be a close one. Recent polls show her slightly ahead of her Republican challenger, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
But Kelly knows Kansans, Republicans and others. She knows what their big worries are, including that “Ïdealogues” might bring back tax cuts that she says “devastated” the state’s schools, roads and other institutions in recent years.
Kelly said she has been able to work across the aisle with Republicans.
“My own senate district is very Republican, by 10 points plus,” she said. “I’ve been able to win that district four times. And it’s because I’ve formed these relationships and maintained them.”
A common thing she’s heard from Republicans in her district during her four terms: ”I voted for you because you showed up.”
And she has been endorsed in the gubernatorial race by two popular Republicans, former Gov. Bill Graves and former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum.
What she’ll do as governor: Fix what she calls the damage from “the dark years.” Everywhere she goes, voters describe to her what the 2012 “Brownback tax experiment” did to state institutions:
• Class sizes ballooned; teachers left the state.
• The Kansas roster of foster kids jumped from 5,000 to 8,000 because there were no longer enough social workers to reunite them with their families or adopting families.
• Thirty hospitals are on the verge of closing in Kansas because the government refused to deal with Medicaid expansion, a topic she says voters bring up at every stop she’s made.
• Roads are crumbling. “You go into KDOT now (Kansas Department of Transportation) and it looks like a ghost town.”
• “And we’ve had the greatest out-migration ever in the past seven years. It’s because all those cuts made Kansas a much less attractive place.”
• “And there’s one thing I always bring up, on the road – I want to re-instate the state arts commission. I get a standing ovation anytime I bring that up, and it doesn’t matter what part of Kansas I am, Overland Park or Oberlin. We were spending $750,000 on the arts commission – and getting back $28 million, either from the feds or foundations. It was a great investment and reaped rewards all over the state.”
The dark years ended, she said, “because the Republicans and I want the same things: they want to fund their schools. They want Kansas to be a well-respected place that businesses want to move to and to grow.”
Republican voters two years ago elected moderates who combined with Democrats to end some of Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts, and override Brownback’s vetoes. Kris Kobach wants to bring the cuts back, she said.
In the state’s primary in August, “Some of those really wonderful moderate legislators were taken out. We’ll have to see what happens in November, whether they are replaced by an ideologue, or by a Democrat.”
All this and more, she said, is why more than two dozen past and current Republican legislators in the red state of Kansas have endorsed her, including Kassebaum and Graves.
“We need to re-brand … go back to being a sane, open, welcoming state that businesses will look at, that people will look at.”
Voters are telling all three candidates that property appraisals and the sales tax are pricing some voters out of their homes and retirement savings. She agrees with Kobach and Orman that those taxes are too high. “We’ve got to lower the sales tax, particularly on food. Our property taxes are too high. Beyond that, we’ve got to get back to a balanced approach to taxes.”
The Brownback cuts forced the legislature and local municipalities to raise those taxes, she said, to offset what they lost from state-run programs funded with the income tax.
So would a Governor Kelly lower all taxes? Would she raise state taxes to rebuild schools, roads and other programs she said were gutted by Brownback?
“I’m not prepared to do anything about revenues until we really understand the full implications of what we did in overturning the Brownback experiment, and then what the feds did,” she said. “And we’re not going to know that until the middle of 2019.”
She hopes to make state government more open, but said she wants conversations with legislators before she would make any moves. There are many moves to consider, she said. Legislators often prepare bills without putting their names on the bills. Committees, where most of the debate and work takes place, don’t record the votes of committee members, another way to hide a legislator’s maneuvers. Legislators sometimes remove all the wording from a bill, and substitute other wording, a secretive process they themselves call “gut and go.”
Oftentimes, she said, the only way voters find out about state mistakes, big and small, is when a newspaper reporter digs up documents and exposes wrongdoing.
News reporters are not the “enemy of the people,” she said. “Sometimes we need help. Somebody needs to hold us accountable, and the press does a really good job of that.”
Kelly has a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation from Indiana University. Her husband is a physician; they have two daughters.
Her running mate is Lynn Rogers.
Topekan Rick Kloos admits he is a frustrated Republicans running as an Independent for Kansas governor.
“Decisions for Kansas should be made by the residents, not the agenda of the two parties,” he said. “I want to represent the people and not just a party.
“I will work between the parties to unite us rather than divide Kansas. I believe the state will run healthiest when we work together and find common ground solutions.”
Kloos is a graduate of Trinity College in North Dakota with a bachelor’s degree in theology and ministerial studies. He served as clergy for 30 years.
He continued his studies in substance abuse counseling at Washburn University and has certification from the American Council for Pharmacy Education, which allows him to serve as a police and hospice chaplain in correctional facilities and clinical settings.
While he is an advocate of lower taxes, he believes in achieving reform in a responsible way.
“As of right now, I support the three-legged stool approach: income tax, sales tax and property tax,” he said. But “I think taking our income tax out is partly why we see our high sales tax and property tax. When you take one away, it puts pressure on the others.
“Right now, we are in a position where we need to sit tight and adjust our taxes when we know we have sufficient funds to carry out our services.”
School funding, a perennial concern in Kansas, has his attention as well.
Education, Kloos said, consumes about 50 percent of the states budget.
“Because of that,” he said, “people sometimes view education as only a liability. I believe we need to change our way of thinking and view it as one of our greatest assets. I want to restore value and respect back to our education system.”
How would he fund the growing budget needs of public education?
“I believe we can fund both higher and K-12 education with the new online tax and also with sports betting,” Kloos . “I think those are two good ways we can help fund education without raising our sales, income and property taxes.”
He said another concern is that Kansas ranks fifth in the percentage of residents moving out of state.
Kansas needs to grow, he said, which will provide the jobs necessary to keep our residents and college graduates here.
That also will have an effect on state revenues.
“We’re not going to be able to cut taxes if we don’t start growing,” he said. “I will promote Kansas to help it grow.”
Kansas government also needs to be more open.
“One way I will work to be more transparent is being more involved with our local leaders across the state,” he said. “I had the opportunity to visit all 105 counties over 52 days and made it a point to meet with local leaders all across the state.
“I would like to continue that because it helps government leaders stay accountable to the people, their needs and their concerns. Also, I think we need to get away from behind-the-door deals.”
Kloos supports Medicaid expansion and the decriminalization of marijuana, but not outright legalization.
“It is important we not continue to fill our prisons with more non-violent offenders,” he said. “We should also explore options concerning the use of marijuana in medical and end-of-life care.”
Kloos, his wife Pennie and son Nate started the non-profit organization God’s Storehouse in Topeka nine years ago.
His running mate is Nate Kloos, his son.
— Compiled by the Kansas Press Association staff.
BY ROY WENZL
Kris Kobach made a national reputation by writing bills for Kansas and other states that opposed illegal immigration and placed restrictions on voting.
Opponents denounced him, judges ruled against some of his legal writings, (one federal judge fined him $27,000 for contempt of court). Critics have said, including in court, that many of his national and state “voter fraud” assertions are false, and that his suggestion for a Muslim national registry to help national security was a cruel and unconstitutional position.
Yet, this was what made him a friend of Donald Trump and a national name. He stands by what he’s done.
But Kansas gubernatorial candidate Kobach talks mostly taxes these days. When asked why Kansans should vote for him on Nov. 6, he pledged lower taxes, including those not directly controlled by the state. At stake, he said, are jobs, livelihoods – and retirement savings. A Republican, Kobach says his opponents, Democratic Sen. Laura Kelly and Independent candidate Greg Orman, are out of touch with voters.
What he’s heard from voters upsets him.
“Everywhere I go, people tell me how they are hurting,” he said. It’s not only state taxes but local property appraisal increases and utility bills, bills he says are 25 percent higher in Kansas than in surrounding states. “Families, elderly people who worked all their lives, and made plans, tell me they are seeing their retirement savings depleted.”
“If you look at income, property and sales taxes combined, we have the highest combined tax rate of the five-state area,” he said. “Our appraisals have been going through the roof in Kansas, our people have seen stealth tax hikes when they’ve had double-digit appraisals (on property taxes). People are being appraised out of their homes.”
The Legislature doesn’t directly set property taxes raised by municipalities and school boards but does have some say, Kobach said. If elected, he’ll ask the Legislature to impose a statutory cap of 2 percent per year on how much property tax appraisals can rise, even though critics content that may not be legally feasible. Kobach also says he will appoint members to the Kansas Corporation Commission to better-regulate utilities.
“Many of our kids are leaving after graduating from high school or college because the businesses are leaving our state,” said Kobach, a father of five. “We’ve driven many businesses out of the state because our taxes are punitively high.”
Here is what else he’d do:
State taxes. “The problem with the tax plan of 2012 was that Kansas cut taxes but did not cut spending. You can’t do it that way. There is a lot that can be cut… I was able to shrink my office, the Secretary of state’s office, from $7 million in fiscal year 2011 to $4.6 million today.”
Schools: Critics said the 2012 tax plan starved schools. Kobach says there’s not a reason to cut money for schools (or roads) if we cut elsewhere, which he says can be done. He will push for a statutory requirement that 75 cents of every school dollar go to teachers and classrooms, rather than administration. Meanwhile: “We have doubled the amount of dollars we spend on education in the last 20 years but … performance and scores have not improved – they’ve flatlined.”
More open government: If elected, he plans to personally make government more open. ”I have a policy of answering reporters’ questions personally, and not through intermediaries,” he said.
The state’s executive branch is open enough, he said. The Legislature, not so much.
“Kansas is one of the few states where the legislature does not record committee votes. And as people who follow politics know, the way you kill a bill -- you kill it in committee. Right now, if you want to see how your representative is voting, you have to sit in the committee room and watch his or her lips move. It is outrageous that we don’t have that transparency. And I’ll push for that in office.”
Labor shortages: Kobach said the labor shortage in Kansas is a serious problem – and he’s willing to solve it with legal labor. He pointed out that legal immigrants from Somalia, Myanmar and Mexico have helped economies in southwest Kansas thrive. “I am only concerned with removing the illegal workforce, not the legal workforce. We should be a welcoming state to those who want to come here legally to work, whether it be in a high-tech industry or in the packing plants in southwest Kansas. We absolutely should welcome those who want to come in legally.”
One other solution: Prison labor. Some people in farming and ranching and in meat product services are looking at taking advantage of that now,” he said. “I’m willing to look at maximizing that supply of labor. That may mean moving certain inmates to facilities further west, to where the demand is highest for that.”
His opponents, Laura Kelly and Greg Orman: “Two Democrats,” he said with a grin. (Orman is on the November ballot as an Independent). They are out of step with most Kansans regarding taxes, gun rights, abortion and small government, he said.
The media: The news media is not “the enemy of the people.” “The vast majority of reporters in Kansas are doing a good job.” But – editorial pages over the last 30 years have “gone so far to the left.”
Kobach, 52, grew up in Topeka and earned degrees at Washburn, Harvard, Yale and the University of Oxford. He has served the last eight years as Kansas Secretary of State.
His running mate is Wink Hartman.
BY ROY WENZL
Greg Orman is running for Kansas governor as an independent and unconventional candidate this year because he thinks he has something profound to offer citizens.
So when people ask him how polls this year repeatedly show (so far) that only 9 percent of voters want him this time, a steep drop from when he won 42.5 percent of the vote when he ran for the U.S. Senate against Pat Roberts, he makes the following case for why his independent candidacy is noble:
“Median income for Americans hasn’t risen in 17 years,” he said. “Health care, public and higher education costs, child care have so far outstripped the rate of inflation that the average American family – well -- it doesn’t feel like you’re treading water. It feels like you’re drowning.”
This is why 45 percent of the 2016 voters chose the unconventional candidate Donald Trump (and why 40 percent of Democratic primary voters voted for the unconventional candidate Bernie Sanders), he said.
Voters have told him they are scared, getting poorer and priced out of their homes by property taxes – they despise conventional politics. So while he wants to win, this election is not only about him, he said.
“The thing that has driven me for the last 10 years is my belief that if we don’t do something dramatically different, our standard of living, our status in the world and the very existence of the middle class are at risk,” Orman said. “It’s largely because our politics gets in the way of solving problems. We have the Hatfields and the McCoys running our government right now.”
Those polls also show Laura Kelly and Kris Kobach, his Democrat and Republican opponents, in nearly a dead heat, but with percentages only in the high 30s and with roughly 15 percent of other voters undecided. What his own polls show is that his favorability ratings are much higher than theirs. Why?
Kobach, he said, “Is taking a strategy that I would describe as starving the government. Sen. Kelly on the other hand has talked about a whole litany of new spending programs … (but) will have to raise taxes to fund her priorities.”
Voters don’t like either option, he said. But his background, as an entrepreneur who has created or bought and turned around companies makes him the ideal person to take over a government and fix what ails the state.
The Brownback cuts, which Kobach wants to bring back, damaged the state, he said, because Brownback “used across the board cuts – cut the good with the bad. Those cuts are lazy, inefficient, they don’t work – and yet it’s the only toolkit available to someone like Sam Brownback, or Laura Kelly, or Kris Kobach.”
“I am the only candidate who has any experience that even approaches the job of managing an enterprise with a $17 billion budget and 40,000 employees,” he said.
First, he’d stop spending tens of millions while recruiting Kansas City (Missouri) companies to move across the state line to Kansas. These incentives cost Kansans hundreds of millions with no true payoff.
Second, he’d de-criminalize small-time marijuana possession, which he says needlessly puts young people in prison and grossly inflates tax dollars spent on prisons. “It’s a stupid public policy for a largely victimless crime, which destroys the capacities of our kids. If you get caught with recreational drugs, you get a ticket instead.”
And third, he’d use his considerable business acumen “to look at how we negotiate drug prices through the Medicaid program.”
That’s a big one, he said. “We spend hundreds of millions of dollars on drugs through Medicaid, but we do a terrible job of negotiating prices. I know how to negotiate prices because I’ve had to do it in my businesses.”
Those three policy changes alone would save hundreds of millions of dollars, he said.
“And that’s just the start. We will go through every agency of government, making smart decisions: Can we redesign the process? Can we redesign how we deliver these services?
“I spent my life in the private sector doing that, in many cases with very efficient companies, making them more efficient.”
The Brownback tax cuts were disastrous for public schools and institutions, he said. “We’ve still got quite a hole to fill.” But cutting as he suggests would mean we could support schools and other programs adequately, and look at how to lower property, sales and other taxes in a way the state can afford. Cutting some taxes is vital, he said.
“In Kingman County a woman came up to me on the street and said ‘Greg, my husband and I saved to pay off our house and paid off our mortgage. But he passed away, and now I can’t afford my property taxes – I may have to leave my home.’
Scenes like that tell him our two-party system no longer works.
“We have the highest sales tax on food in the nation. I’d love to be able to get to a point where we can address some of those things. But I also want to be fiscally responsible and make sure that in doing that, we’re not just passing our problems on to future generations.
Putting him at the head of state government would create an intriguing thing, he said. With the two-party system broken, he could be an arbiter. “The way things are now -- whenever we pick a course of action, we tend to look for things that reinforce our point of view. We never look for evidence that we are wrong.
“But I want to hear from all sides. I think intellectual conflict is a good thing. It’s the only way we get to the best answer.”
Orman graduated with high honors from Princeton University and soon started companies that created jobs and millions in wealth. He lives in Fairway with his wife and two daughters.
His running mate is John Doll.