Kansas Democrats gathered in Wichita on Saturday, fired up for an election in which the party thinks it can take the governor’s mansion.
“The stakes are so high in this election because we all know that these 3 1/2 years of Sam Brownback have been a failure, and we cannot afford four more years of Sam Brownback,” gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis told a crowd at a rally at the summer Demofest convention in Wichita.
“So I want to challenge you for these next 70 days to think about what you can help us do to win today … and we will win tomorrow for the next four years.”
A crowd wearing red Kansas National Education Association shirts greeted Davis and other speakers at the rally at the Drury Hotel Plaza Broadview.
Davis has focused his campaign on education.
“I believe that’s really the issue that most Kansans are concerned about. It’s the issue that I’m most concerned about, because I think we have to get the state heading on a different path than we’re on right now,” Davis said after the rally.
Davis has called for base education aid to be restored to pre-recession levels. He referred to himself as a “champion for public education” during his rally speech.
Brownback’s campaign says that total education spending has increased during his term. This has been driven in part by increased state spending on the previously underfunded pension system.
Democrats say education funding is insufficient and criticize education reforms signed into law by Brownback.
“Let’s bring more red shirts to the Capitol,” shouted Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who represents District 92 in west-central Wichita and faces a challenge from Republican Jeremy Alessi.
In April, members of the KNEA filled the halls of the Capitol to protest a school finance bill that stripped public school teachers of state-mandated due process hearings before they can be fired. The union sued, disputing the bill’s constitutionality, earlier this month.
The union has strongly backed Davis’ candidacy.
Brownback spokesman John Milburn said in an e-mail, “Today Paul Davis went all in for the Obama agenda.
“He is completely out of touch with Kansas,” Milburn added. He accused Davis of seeking to raise taxes with a proposal to freeze income tax rates at 2015 levels until school funding is increased. With no intervention, tax rates will decline further under a law signed by Brownback.
“We’re not proposing increasing the tax burden on anyone in Kansas from what they’re paying right now,” Davis said. “I’m also not saying ‘never’ (to the tax cuts). I’m saying that we need to make restoring funding for our schools the top priority.”
The convention also tried to bring attention to races further down on the ticket. “Davis is no good in office without help,” said Tina Kahn, a teacher speaking at the rally.
Danette Harris, a captain in the National Guard running in House District 82, gave a simple campaign pitch during a meeting of South Central Kansas Democrats.
“Anything that Pete DeGraaf believes, I believe the opposite,” Harris said, referring to her incumbent opponent, an outspoken conservative.
Jean Schodorf, the party’s candidate for secretary of state, told a crowd she wanted to sweep Topeka clean and asked whether they had brought their brooms.
Davis and Schodorf, a former Republican, have both struck a centrist tone as they take on Brownback and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, respectively.
However, the party approved a platform during the convention that is arguably more progressive, with strong statements of support for medical marijuana, same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose.
“It is the collection of thinking by Democrats across this state, some as young as 17…to people who have been longtime Democrats,” said Joan Wagnon, the party’s state chairwoman, as she presented it to the crowd of Democrats. “Every caucus was represented. It says who we are and what we believe. And I think you’ll be proud of it.”
A section titled “Keeping Kansans Healthy” calls for Medicaid expansion, affordable health care for children and support for community mental health services. It also includes statements on medical marijuana and abortion.
“Kansas Democrats support the availability of marijuana for medical use and protection of patients from criminal arrest and prosecution,” the platform states.
Esau Freeman, a Wichita painter and activist who led efforts to include marijuana decriminalization on the ballot in Wichita, praised the policy’s inclusion.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s a progressive step, and it shows the people of Kansas who the real leaders are,” said Freeman, who attended Demofest.
The platform also states support for “evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education” and asserts “that women have a right to control their reproductive choices including a woman’s right to make decisions regarding contraception and pregnancy.”
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, a member of the platform committee, said that these policies are meant to demonstrate that health care choices should between an individual and his or her physician.
The platform also includes a rebuke of a controversial religious freedom bill that passed the Kansas House in February before stalling. Opponents said it would have enabled widespread discrimination of same-sex couples.
“Religious liberty shall not be misconstrued as a license to discriminate or other violate the law,” the platform states. “Kansas Democrats support marriage equality.”
Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, called the platform “the most liberal party platform in state history. They’ve gone all out in their support of the total Obama agenda. It is totally out of touch with Kansas voters and their values.”
The Democratic platform also makes several strong pro-labor statements.
It voices support for public sector unions to organize and bargain collectively to negotiate a living wage.
“Kansas Democrats strongly support efforts to protect Kansas workers. We believe every worker should be paid a living wage, by paying the prevailing wage on state and local construction projects and other initiatives to pay workers a living wage,” the platform states. “Full-time employees should not have to rely on public assistance to survive.”
An amendment, sponsored by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, to oppose racial profiling by police officers also made it into the platform.