Democrats seeking the governor’s office clashed hard with each other on abortions and guns in a televised debate Wednesday evening.
The KWCH-TV debate was the second in two nights. Tuesday was the Republicans, Wednesday was for Democrats.
One thing certain is that abortion has emerged as a go-to-war issue in the Democratic primary race, especially between two of the top candidates: Josh Svaty, a former state representative and agriculture secretary, and Laura Kelly, state senator from Topeka.
Svaty got the abortion question first and acknowledged that Kansans, including Democrats, are deeply divided on the issue.
But he took a fairly soft line.
“You can never make abortion illegal, you can only make access to safe abortion illegal,” he said, adding that he would “trust women to make their own decisions.”
Moments later, Kelly, D-Topeka, pounced on that answer, saying that Svaty had voted 11 times for laws to restrict abortion as a legislator, including four attempts at overriding a Democratic governor’s veto.
“I think it’s important we not mislead voters on where we stand on certain issues,” she said.
The most full-throated defense of abortion rights among the major candidates came from Carl Brewer, former mayor of Wichita.
“I don’t believe that any man should have the right to tell a woman what she should or shouldn’t be doing with her bod," he said. "Nobody’s telling individuals who are male this sort of thing.”
Roles reversed on guns, where it was Svaty who took the more progressive line and pinged Kelly for voting a more conservative stance at the Statehouse.
Svaty said when he served in the Legislature, the state had reasonable laws requiring permits and training to carry a weapon.
Later, the Legislature revoked those gun control measures.
“Senator Kelly not only voted for that legislation, she co-sponsored it,” Svaty said. “That was two years after Sandy Hook (school shooting).”
Kelly responded that it "became very clear we went too far," on gun rights and she supports comprehensive reform.
Brewer sought to thread the needle between the other two, highlighting his military background and hunting background while calling for more restriction.
“I know what these weapons can do,” he said. “We must have reasonable training and reasonable controls on weapons and guns.
“Most definitely we should never, ever have teachers with guns or guns on school property.”
Also participating in the debate were Jack Bergeson, a 17-year-old high school student whose key issues were marijuana reform and populism; and Arden Andersen, a physician and farmer whose main issues were health care and tariff policy.
All five candidates will be on the Aug. 7 election ballot.