Gubernatorial hopefuls Sam Brownback and Tom Holland met at the Kansas State Fair Saturday for their first debate, for an audience that seemed more attuned to a pro wrestling match than a political debate.
With Holland supporters in blue to the left side of the stage and Brownback supporters in yellow to the right, both candidates endured continual yells, catcalls and heckling throughout the hour-long debate.
Holland missed no chance to paint Brownback as part of the problems coming from Washington D.C., rather than someone who can provide solutions, finding something in each question to use to attack Brownback.
“Do you want another big government politician,” Holland asked the unruly audience, adding in his closing statement, “Do we want a governor who is a failed Washington politician? We can’t allow failed politicians to hide their agenda.”
Holland also continually hit Brownback on what he feels are a lack of specifics in his campaign roadmaps.
Brownback, on the other hand, worked to place Holland hand-in-hand with President Obama.
“My opponent wants the status quo,” Brownback said. “More government, more regulation and more taxes. That’s not the way to grow the economy. It’s not the Kansas way.”
Questions were taken from a pool of state political reporters, many of which focused on the economy and education funding. One question dealt with lawsuits brought against the state by Schools for Fair Funding, and whether either of the candidates would address the school funding formula the state uses.
“The formula itself is the problem,” Brownback said. “We have to address the formula itself. We have to move away from forced (school district) consolidations and hit the constitutional requirement. Until then, we’ll keep seeing litigation.”
Brownback also said that this is a matter the legislature should decide, and not the courts.
Holland, on the other hand, says the formula is fine.
“I was proud to vote for that formula,” Holland said, referring to his votes as a state senator.
A follow up question on funding was also addressed, asking if either candidate believes school funding is inadequate.
“I think it’s inadequate to the classroom,” Brownback said. “We have nice schools that we’re building, but they can’t afford teachers.”
Holland again used the question to swipe at Brownback’s Washington experience.
“I think Sen. Brownback is showing his complete ignorance about school funding,” Holland said. “(The funding situation) is because of the economic downturn. He voted for No Child Left Behind, though – one of the most onerous pieces of legislation there is.”
On the economy, several question revolved around the state taking federal stimulus money, and what the best way to turn things around might be.
“I voted against the bailout,” Brownback said. “My opponent supports Obamacare. We will put forward a government spending freeze.” Brownback added that he also supports a review of state budgets and making sure departments don’t take on more authority than the state gives them, along with establishing an “Office of the Repealer” to look at state agencies that are outdated.
Holland countered that Brownback voted for a $200 million bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, before going on to talk about the potential for green jobs in Kansas and his hope to establish a state rainy day fund, in case of another recession.
“We need to engage those opportunities,” Holland said, adding when it comes to wind energy, he hopes to make Kansas, “the Saudi Arabia of wind.”
Brownback took time to compliment outgoing Governor Mark Parkinson on his commitment to renewable energy, and highlighted his recent vote in the senate for a renewable energy standard.
An area where Holland and Brownback agreed was that Washington D.C. has dropped the ball on illegal immigration. They both also spoke out against a canceled event by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Koran.
Afterward, both Holland and Brownback felt that despite the vocal audience, it was a productive debate.
“I felt good,” Holland said. “We got our ideas out about where we need to go as a state. We’ll do some more debates and let the voters decide. It was a spirited group here. That’s OK. They’re supporting their candidates, and that’s what democracy is all about.”
“I thought it went very well,” Brownback said. “It’s a contrast between a centralized, Obama-type approach, versus what we’re talking about – a lower regulation, holding down government, growing the economy approach.”
Brownback also said that he doesn’t believe Holland is offering a plan for Kansas, which led to his attacks during the debate.
“Kansans want to see a plan. That’s why we put this roadmap project out,’ Brownback said.
Holland is hoping for future debates. However, none have been announced.