OVERLAND PARK — While the job description calls for defending and enforcing the laws of Kansas, the race for attorney general has taken a decidedly national tone.
In particular, it has become about the new federal health care act and whether it is an unprecedented "power grab" as Republican Derek Schmidt sees it, or whether it is a law that doesn't conflict with the Kansas Constitution as viewed by Democrat Attorney General Steve Six.
"This is a great race for Kansas voters. There is a significant difference," Six said. "We have focused on what I think are the right priorities. My opponent has his issues he's identified as priorities, and the voters can choose."
Schmidt brings a resume to the race that includes working for U.S. senators and a stint in the consumer affairs division in the 1990s when Republican Carla Stovall was in office. He was elected to the Kansas Senate in 2000 and has served as majority leader since 2005. He's campaigned on his legislative experience writing laws cracking down on drugs and violent crime.
Never miss a local story.
"I've been proud to work with Kansas law enforcement leaders over the years to make Kansas a better and safer place," he said.
Also on the ballot is Libertarian candidate Dennis Hawver.
Schmidt: Protect state's right to decide
Herb Bath, a retired funeral home director and mayor of Altamont, said Schmidt has the qualities suited for the job.
"He has the leadership and the care that it takes," said Bath, 68, who heard Schmidt speak to the League of Kansas Municipalities convention. "He's concerned about people and understands what's right for people."
Bath was "very disappointed" Kansas didn't join the other states in fighting the health care act.
So is Schmidt, who has made the issue the subject of debates, news conferences and television ads.
One spot debuted Oct. 15, noting that Six was appointed to his post by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is now secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services. Sebelius has been a key adviser to President Obama on the act.
"Our unelected, hand-picked attorney general says we must accept the Obama-Pelosi health care bill," the narrator says, in reference to the president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Schmidt, who serves as a city prosecutor in Independence, said in the ad that he will stand up for Kansas by filing or joining litigation to defend the state's right to decide health care matters. He has the backing of fellow Republican Sam Brownback, who's running for governor.
During remarks to city officials in Overland Park, Schmidt said that the issue isn't about the merits of health care, but whether it is a place the federal government can go. He cited a 1960s amendment to the Kansas Constitution granting cities and counties home rule, or local control.
"It is a constitutional right worth protecting," Schmidt said.
He argues that Kansas should join the more than 20 states that are suing the federal government over the health care law. Schmidt said the cost would be minimal to Kansas taxpayers and the work could be handled without hiring outside attorneys.
Six: Focus on fighting fraud in Kansas
Six said he assigned research staff to look at the health care law when it was passed.
"I determined that there was little or no chance of success of a lawsuit and that it would have direct costs in addition to opportunity costs," Six said.
"The attorney general's office focuses on Medicaid fraud and consumer protection. National health care is decided by members of Congress," Six said. "We have focused on the legal issues and determined that Kansas interests are served by focusing on matters here at home."
During his three years in office, Six has seen the amount of money recovered from Medicaid fraud and abuse continue to increase, setting a record of more than $17 million in the last fiscal year, compared with less than $1 million under Republican Phill Kline during his final year in office.
"You can have a politician who pursues political agendas at the expense of consumer protection and cracking down on fraud, or you can have a lawyer who helps seniors and fights fraud right here in Kansas," Six said.
Kline was a staunch abortion opponent and focused his efforts once elected in 2002 to investigating clinics. He was defeated by Democrat Paul Morrison in 2006, who resigned amid a sex scandal, leading to Six's appointment.
Karen Finstead of the Kansas City suburb of Lenexa said Six's record in office, experience and focus were reasons she thinks voters will give him a four-year term in November.
"I do believe he's just what we need in that position," said Finstead, 62, who runs a not-for-profit foundation. "We need to keep that office not political for that person's own agenda. He's doing the job he was appointed to do."
Six also touts the reduction of his budget, reducing the amount of state tax dollars required to operate the office and replacing them with fines and penalties recovered in fraud cases.
"I think the results speak for themselves," Six said.