Government & Politics

Kobach, Kelly accuse each other of lying about schools, immigration in TV debate

Republican Kris Kobach, Libertarian Jeff Caldwell, independent Greg Orman, Democrat Laura Kelly and independent Rick Kloos debated in a forum for governor candidates at KWCH-TV on in Wichita on Tuesday night.
Republican Kris Kobach, Libertarian Jeff Caldwell, independent Greg Orman, Democrat Laura Kelly and independent Rick Kloos debated in a forum for governor candidates at KWCH-TV on in Wichita on Tuesday night. The Wichita Eagle

Kansas governor frontrunners accused each other of lying about education and immigration in a debate at a Wichita television station Tuesday night.

It started with the first question in the KWCH-TV forum.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach kicked it off when he claimed “state spending on K-12 education in Kansas has been increasing, but strangely we haven’t seen the results.”

That drew a reaction from Democratic candidate Laura Kelly, a state senator from Topeka, who said schools lost funding during the administration of former Gov. Sam Brownback, and accused Kobach of wanting to go back to that time.

“The fact of the matter is we have not been increasing funding for schools until this past year when we met the court mandate to do that,” said Kelly, referring to Supreme Court decisions that found the Legislature was failing to meet its constitutional mandate to suitably fund education.

If Kobach gets elected, “We’re talking about cutting those schools again and we go back to larger class sizes, programs being cut and teachers fleeing our state,” Kelly said.

Kobach used his reply time on a question about expanding Medicaid for a retort to Kelly on education.

“Ms. Kelly continues to repeat a lie over and over again … claiming I say schools are overfunded and I want to cut school spending,” he said. “That is a falsehood. I have never said that.”

Instead, Kobach said he wants to cut into some areas of spending to increase the proportion of money going to classroom instruction. He’s pegged that at 75 percent, 10 percent above a guideline set by the Legislature as a target for schools.

Independent candidate Greg Orman tied his answer about school spending to economic growth.

“My wife said that to me once as a teacher: ‘You know the best education plan is a growing economy, because with a growing economy, parents have better jobs, they have opportunities to spend more time focused on their kids’ education,” he said.

Independent candidate Rick Kloos said part of the reason he’s running is because he’s troubled by the state seeing children as a liability rather than an asset.

“As far as the Supreme Court goes, it never should have got there,” he said. “We should have dealt with the situation.”

Libertarian candidate Jeff Caldwell said he wants to increase funding for schools by legalizing and taxing marijuana and sports betting.

Kelly and Kobach also accused each other of playing loose with the facts on Kobach’s signature issue, immigration.

That came up after Kobach alleged that undocumented immigrants are costing Kansas a lot of money.

“Those illegal aliens are costing Kansas taxpayers $377 million a year in benefits and welfare every year,” he said. “Specifically, I will cut welfare benefits to illegal aliens. That’s something Laura Kelly voted the wrong way on.”

Kelly responded that Kobach’s gotten his facts wrong.

“When Kris Kobach says that we spend $370 million on welfare benefits for immigrants, that’s just not true,” Kelly said. “They are not eligible for welfare benefits.”

Kobach again spent reply time from an unrelated question, this time on gay rights, to rebut Kelly’s statement that he was wrong on immigration costs, which he called “yet another false statement from Ms. Kelly.”

“She offers no source, I’ll tell you where you can find it,” he said. “The statistics are right there. You can go to (www.fairus.org). They did a state-by-state study to see how much some states are spending on public benefits for illegal aliens.”

The website Kobach cited is run by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington advocacy group that supports expulsion of unauthorized immigrants, along with about a 70 percent reduction in legal immigration.

The election will be held Nov. 6.

Dion Lefler; 316-268-6527, @DionKansas
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