Having just watched the fourth and (whew!) final debate between Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and his Democratic challenger, Paul Davis, one can be grateful that there’s only two weeks left in this campaign.
A person who hasn’t been paying attention up until now could have watched today’s debate in Wichita and come away absolutely confused as to who was speaking the truth. That probably goes for a lot of people who have been paying attention.
Both candidates accused each other of lying. They threw out contradictory information. They used entirely different markers to judge success or failure.
Brownback said Davis was a liberal Democrat using the “Obama model.” Davis accused Brownback of conducting a “failed experiment” with income tax cuts.
Brownback said he had put “record money” into school financing. Davis accused him, in his first year as governor, of passing “the largest cut to schools in Kansas history.” (Give Davis the high ground on this one. Brownback attempts to cloud the issue, but Kansas has fallen far behind during his tenure in the amount of money that schools use to meet day-to-day expenses.”)
Brownback said personal income growth in Kansas is on the rise. (True, according to one study.)
Davis said Brownback was raiding the state transportation fund to balance the budget. (True.)
All of the above is getting a bit repetitious. The candidates and their campaigns have been going on about those things for weeks.
Brownback did break new ground by bringing up the issue of judicial selection. He said the Kansas Supreme Court is a liberal bastion and Davis wants to keep it that way, while he wants to move from a non-partisan selection system to a process whereby the governor selects the justices.
Brownback twice said that a Kansas Supreme Court justice had held a fundraiser for Davis at her home.
Actually, it was the husband of Justice Carol Beier who hosted an “informational session” for teachers at the home the couple share. The suggested donation was $20. The justice didn’t attend and neither did Davis. It was a bad idea, clearly; Republicans pounced on it instantly. But Brownback’s assertion that the justice hosted a fundraiser for Davis is off the mark.
Brownback used the opportunity of the debate being in Wichita to talk about a recent Kansas Supreme Court verdict that overturned the death sentences of two brothers, Jonathan and Reginald Carr, who in December 2000 committed some of the worst crimes in that city’s history. They are accused of fatally shooting a musician and also of murdering four young persons after a night of terror, robbery and rape. A fifth victim survived the horrific crimes and testified against the brothers.
The court’s majority said the two defendants should have had separate sentencing proceedings to determine whether their punishment would be life in prison or the death penalty. They remain in prison on capital convictions; the state is appealing the verdict.
Brownback said Davis is beholden to the “liberal” judges who gave the Carr brothers a break, and repeated the dubious fundraiser claim. Apparently he’s said something similar in a campaign ad, because Davis said he woke up this morning to a commercial that links him to the Carr brothers.
“I knew one of the Carr brothers’ victims,” Davis said, and blasted Brownback for using the tragedy for political gain.
Davis is right. Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, also a Republican up for election, has been scrupulous about not inflaming public sentiment over the Supreme Court’s ruling. Brownback should do the same. Unless the governor has recently become an expert in constitutional and criminal law, he should leave this one to the appeals process.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.