Gubernatorial candidates meet for final debate

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The three leading candidates in the race for Kansas governor took part in their final debate before voters head to the polls next Tuesday.

VIDEO | Watch the full debate online

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Democratic Senator Laura Kelly and Independent candidate and businessman Greg Orman were in the KSN studio in Wichita.

The moderator panel consisted of KSN anchor Jeff Herndon, KSNF anchor Jessica Schaer and KSNT political analyst Dr. Bob Beatty.

The first question of the debate was if the candidates thought Sam Brownback was a good governor during his tenure.

VIDEO|  Debate: Gov. Brownback and Governing Without a Majority

Only Kobach said that he believed Brownback was a good governor. Kobach said that one mistake Brownback made was not reversing his income tax experiment earlier.

Kelly and Orman were critical of the Brownback years, citing school funding cuts and the tax experiment.

Taxes and school funding were major topics of the live one-hour debate that was simulcast across the state.

All three candidates were asked how they would govern if they do not get a majority of the vote on election night. All three said they would reach across the aisle and work with the other party.

Each candidate was shown an ad that they had approved that was attacking their opponents. They were then asked to defend that ad and to back up claims that were made in the ad.

One of the major topics was the Brownback tax experiment. Senator Kelly said she led the bipartisan effort to repeal the tax plan. Orman said that we have to invest in our priorities in order to grow the economy. He said having a stable tax policy would accomplish that. Kobach said Kelly has never met a tax hike she does not like. He said we have to look out for the Kansas taxpayer and shrinking the size of government will mean that no new taxes will be levied.

When asked about concerns with the Department of Children and Families, all three candidates said that changes that have recently taken place in DCF are a good start, but more needs to be done.

VIDEO | Debate: Taxes and the DCF

On the topic of legalizing marijuana in some capacity, Kobach said he is against legalization, whether it be medical or recreational. He said new drugs from the FDA should be tried as an alternative to medical marijuana. Both Kelly and Orman stated they believe medical marijuana should be legalized.

Party lines were drawn on the issue of transgender bathrooms, with Kobach against them. He suggested using faculty restrooms in these situations. Kelly used North Carolina and their failed transgender law as an economic warning against discrimination. Orman said that we should not be regulating how people use the bathroom.

VIDEO | Debate: Legalizing Marijuana and Transgender Bathrooms

VIDEO | Debate: Campaign Ads

Later in the live one-hour debate, the candidates tackled the complicated and controversial issue of school funding. Orman started off by saying Kansas has the resources in the budget to address the financial shortfall and says he is focused on growing the economy and making Kansas more efficient. Kobach, though, criticized the Kansas Supreme Court. He says there is nothing in the state constitution that gives the court the authority to determine how much the legislature should spend on education. Whereas Kelly agreed with the court ruling, saying it is the checks and balances that are put in place to make sure schools are adequately funded.

VIDEO | Debate: School Funding, Public Safety and Wrap-up

All three candidates were asked to grade Kansas gun laws, A-F. Kobach said he gives the state an A-. He says the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Kelly gave the gun laws a C. She said we need to have some common sense gun policy to ensure public safety. Orman also gave Kansas a C, saying that we need to look at the new concealed carry law where no training is required. He believes this is a safety issue.

The KSN moderators threw a curveball at the candidates, asking them to say something nice about their competitors. Kelly said that Kobach has one of the most adorable families she’s ever seen. She said she worked on Orman’s campaign in 2014 and thought he was qualified for that position. Orman said that during a parade in Gardner, he looked over and saw his three-year-old daughter playing with Kobach’s daughters. He says it reminded him of how much they have in common. Orman said that Kelly is a very intelligent and thoughtful person who cares about Kansas.  Kobach thanked them for the compliments and said that Kelly was one of the most experienced legislators in the Kansas Senate and one of the few who reads bills and does their homework. He said that Orman has a wealth of experience and is very thoughtful as he approaches issues.

In their closing arguments, Orman said that Kansans have a choice next Tuesday, he said they can decide if they want the decision to be based on fear, based on a vote for that candidate to avoid a worse one, or if they want to vote based on courage. Kobach said that if you like the status quo and think nothing should change, that you should vote for one of his opponents. He said that if they are elected, you will have four years of gridlock. The legislature will pass a bill and get vetoed. He said that if he is elected, he will lead and take out state in new directions. Kelly said that stakes have never been so high and choices have never been so clear. She told the viewing audience that they can go back to the Sam Brownback years or elect a governor who will work to rebuild the state.

All three candidates shook hands after the debate. 


The debate, held at KSN’s studios in Wichita, will be held from 6-7 p.m. and will be broadcast on the following NBC Nexstar Broadcast Group Inc. stations: KSNW-TV (Wichita) and its satellite stations in central and western Kansas, KSNT-TV (Topeka), KSNF-TV (Joplin, MO/Pittsburg, KS). The debate will also be aired in the Kansas City region on KMCI-DT1, (IND, 38.1) an affiliate of KSHB. Viewers may also access a live-stream of the debate online by visiting,, and

The campaigns for Kris Kobach, Republican, Laura Kelly, Democrat, and Greg Orman, Independent, have committed to participating in the debate. The three candidates were invited because they meet the criteria set forth by Nexstar Media Group Inc. to qualify for the debate.

The debate will be moderated by Jeff Herndon, news anchor at KSNW-TV, Jessica Schaer, news anchor at KSNF-TV, Bob Beatty, political analyst for KSNT-TV, Professor & Chair of Political Science, Washburn University, Topeka. The panel will deliver questions focused on topical local & regional issues impacting communities across Kansas.

Nexstar Media Group Debate Criteria:
Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. is committed to hosting fair and open debates among qualified candidates as part of the Company’s mission to inform the public and assist voters in making important electoral decisions. To determine who is a qualified candidate, the Company has adopted the following objective and non-discriminatory criteria to govern which candidates are eligible to participate in Company-sponsored debates. In order to be eligible to participate, a candidate must comply with all sections of this policy.

  1. A candidate must be legally qualified and (x) listed on the ballot for the office the candidate is seeking or (y) be a write-in candidate who meets all of the legal qualifications required by the federal, state or municipal government for the office being sought and has filed the appropriate papers for write-in status.
  2. A candidate must have publicly announced his or her candidacy in a public forum. For the purposes of this section, “public forum” includes an announcement of candidacy on the Internet.
  3. A candidate must be actively campaigning for election in the jurisdiction he or she is seeking to represent for the office he or she is seeking. To meet the definition of an active campaign, a candidate must have all of the following:
    1. A campaign headquarters with a paid and/or volunteer staff that is open to the public during business hours. For the purposes of this subsection, a campaign headquarters may not be a private residence, but may be a business address used primarily for non-campaign purposes; and
    2. A campaign phone line; and
    3. A publicized, dedicated candidate-specific website or web page; and
    4. Planned in-district appearances or invitations to appear and/or speak at public gatherings; and
    5. Monetary contributions and a campaign treasurer; and
    6. Campaign literature; and
    7. Press coverage identifying the candidate as a candidate in the current election by at least eight unique news reports in media (e.g. newspapers, TV, cable news, radio, or online news websites that are recognized by local and/or national media).  
  4. If a candidate meets at least five but not all of the requirements in Section 3 above (and meets the requirements in Section 5 below) and can show either:
    1. He or she has received a minimum of 5 percent for a primary election, or 10 percent for a general election, support in an established, professionally conducted nonpartisan poll without taking the survey’s margin of error into account, or
    2. The percentage of votes cast for the candidate in a previous election within the four years immediately preceding the current election exceeds a minimum of 20 percent of votes for the same office or a comparable office,
    the candidate is eligible to participate in the debate.
  5. In addition to the requirements of Sections 1-4 inclusive, a candidate for a state or federal office must have reported, on official forms filed with the appropriate election authority, accepting at least $50,000 in monetary, as opposed to in-kind, campaign contributions, at least 25 percent of which must be raised from in-state constituents.  For local offices, a candidate must have reported, on official forms filed with the appropriate election authority, having accepted at least $15,000 in campaign contributions.
  6. Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. and its affiliates, employees, agents and servants shall not guarantee to any candidate or candidate’s campaign, verbally or in writing, that the candidate will be included in a debate until the requirements of this policy, and each of them, have been satisfied to the satisfaction of Nexstar Broadcasting Inc. and its affiliates.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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