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Dem candidates target Kobach at lake event

Forum draws four of seven party gubernatorial aspirants

News editor

A crowd of party enthusiasts at Marion County Lake Hall reacted with applause and chuckles Saturday when state representative and Democratic candidate for governor Jim Ward stepped up to the microphone during a public forum to express why he would be the party’s best choice in the August primary.

“I can beat Kris Kobach,” he said simply.

For Arden Anderson, Laura Kelly, and Jack Bergeson, three other candidates attending the forum arranged by Marion County Democrats, the message was much the same, although more nuanced.

Anderson, a doctor and a flight surgeon in the Air Force Reserves, sought to show how his rigorous training, decision-making in tough situations, and varied background prepared him to tackle the state’s biggest issues, which included education and health care, he said.

He distinguished himself from his competitors when he brought attention to how increasing numbers of children diagnosed with developmental disabilities, including autism, would put a severe strain on school finance in coming years. Anderson said that effectively addressing the problem would require both medical and policy interventions.

The campaign and legislative experience of Ward and Kelly, a state senator, were evident as they answered questions with a mix of expertise drawn from experience and the personable ease of savvy campaigners.

Kelly set herself apart from the rest when responding to a question about how she would bring business to Kansas. After emphasizing quality education, a theme echoed by all throughout the forum, she said she would work to improve the state’s national image, which she said took a beating under former Gov. Sam Brownback. She also wanted to re-establish the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which had been working effectively until it was shut down by budget cuts, she said.

Ward’s answer to the same question spoke more to the needs of rural economies, saying that as governor he would strongly oppose tariff actions that negatively affect farmers and ranchers. He also stressed the need to build up business infrastructure, including high-speed broadband Internet, and building a qualified work force.

Both Kelly and Ward also cited private polling that they said showed they could beat Republican front-runner Kobach in the general election.

Bergeson is one of several teen-agers running for governor. He caught the crowd’s attention in his opening remarks when he advocated for legalization of recreational and medicinal marijuana, and continued the theme later in arguing for industrial hemp as an alternative crop that would benefit farmers. He also advocated for increased passenger rail and airline service, and suggested the broadband issue could be tackled by government in a manner similar to the Depression-era Tennessee Valley Authority that brought electricity to underserved areas.

After the meeting, Dan Peterson was enthused by what he heard, and was convinced of one thing in particular.

“That we can beat Kris Kobach,” he said. “I think a number of these candidates could help clean up the Brownback mess. That’s important. Education is important. Standing up for agriculture against this horrible Trump policy on trade, I think we have people here willing to do that.”

Peterson said many of the candidates’ positions would resonate with voters.

“I think we’ll have a candidate come forward with a unifying message that independents and some Republicans can support.”

Sue Clough liked hearing that candidates would work across the aisle to solve the state’s problems.

“They’re really pushing that it’s by the people, that both parties have to come together and even though we have differences, we have to work it out for the people of Kansas,” she said. “We just have to do that.”

Clough said that something needs to be done about health care.

“John Q. Public thinks the government pays for all our Medicare,” she said. “No. I pay out $250 a month for health care, just for insurance. My own family was shocked at that.”

Jackie Volbrecht said she got more information than she anticipated.

“I’m very pleased,” she said. “They’re on top of things I hadn’t even thought that deeply about. Education, they had specifics about it and I liked that. They gave us things to think about.”

Volbrecht was also encouraged about attention being paid to the governor’s race.

“I have a feeling everybody is going to be listening, and that makes me happy,” she said. “If we just all listen to each other, I think the best candidate will win.”

Last modified May 10, 2018

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