Candidates for attorney general spar at first debate

WICHITA — Candidates for Kansas attorney general remained civil but took their shots at each other today during a debate in Wichita.

Democratic incumbent Steve Six tried to portray his Republican opponent, Derek Schmidt, as a "career politician" seeking to promote his party's agenda.

Schmidt, the Senate majority leader, referred to Six as an appointee of Democratic leaders, first as a judge then as attorney general.

Dennis Hawver, the Libertarian candidate, acknowledged he had little chance of winning the election in November but wanted to promote his party's position of individual responsibility and limiting government's role.

One of the biggest points of contention during the debate came over Kansas not joining 21 other states in challenging this year's federal health care reform bill in court.

Six said joining the suit would be another example of a political agenda that has cast a shroud over the office. He specifically referred to former Attorney General Phill Kline's pursuit of abortion clinics.

Kline's investigation into the late George Tiller, a Wichita abortion provider, has been criticized. Kline also faces ethical complaints before the state's Board for Discipline of Attorneys.

"We have had a history in this Attorney General's Office that I've worked for three years to turn around," Six said. "And that is a history of pursuing political agendas that are important to that particular attorney general. And it has driven the office off the cliff.

"Consumer fraud went unchecked, Medicaid fraud went unchecked as particular personal agendas were pursued."

Six said he and his attorneys studied the suit and determined it would be too expensive to join a lawsuit that they decided had little chance of success.

Schmidt said he would join the lawsuit.

"I do not believe standing up and fighting for the right of Kansans to decide Kansans' destiny is a personal political agenda," Schmidt said.

Schmidt said the challenge of the health care bill is a question about the growing reach of the federal government.

"Tomorrow the power of the federal government, if left unchecked today, will be much broader," he said.

Hawver said the states don't need the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the case. The state, Hawver said, "can just say no."

"We're not going to allow you to enforce it here," he said. "We have the power to do this, people, if we have the guts. We have the power to be a sovereign state, if we decide to do so."

The debate was sponsored by the Wichita Crime Commission.