Education cuts a bone of contention in Sam Brownback-Paul Davis debate

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, left, and Democratic challenger Paul Davis shake hands after a televised debate hosted by KWCH-TV and moderated by Michael Schwanke. (Oct. 20, 2014)
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, left, and Democratic challenger Paul Davis shake hands after a televised debate hosted by KWCH-TV and moderated by Michael Schwanke. (Oct. 20, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

In their penultimate debate in the Kansas governor’s race, Sam Brownback and Paul Davis mostly argued over who cut education more.

Brownback, the incumbent Republican governor, said he had increased education funding on his watch and blamed cuts on former Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson – and on Davis, the House minority leader.

“Now they (the cuts) happened during the depth of the recession, and so I respect that,” Brownback said. “They had to do something, but don’t blame me for your cuts in education.”

Davis replied that the first cuts weren’t the deepest and that those came after Brownback took over.

“The fact of the matter is the governor (Brownback) made the single largest cut in public school funding in his very first year in office, and then he declared it a ‘victory,’ ” Davis said. “I’ve never seen Kansans more concerned about the state of our public schools.”

During the half-hour debate Monday at KWCH-TV, the two candidates – dressed almost identically in dark charcoal suits, white shirts and patterned red ties – returned time and again to the messages that have powered their campaigns.

Davis swung at Brownback’s administration as a “failed experiment” in reckless tax cutting that has stripped funds from schools, roads and public services.

Brownback repeatedly sought to link Davis to what he calls the “Obama model” of governance.

Brownback attributed what he called an improved economic and jobs picture in the state to his tax plan that cut tax rates and eliminated the state income tax on profits for many business owners.

If he’s re-elected, “we’re going to continue to push the growth agenda and not the tax agenda,” Brownback said.

Davis contended that Brownback’s plan has stunted recovery from the recession, saying that the state trails the nation and most of the surrounding states in job creation.

He said Kansas will face “$1.3 billion of debt over the next five years because of this experiment. We can’t afford that.”

The candidates also obliquely addressed the increasingly nasty tone of the campaign ads that have inundated the airwaves. Some have come from the campaigns themselves, and some have been sponsored by outside special-interest groups hoping to influence the election.

“When I decided to get into this race, I knew that Gov. Brownback would probably run an ugly campaign with personal attacks, and he’s certainly living up to that,” Davis said. “But I’m willing to take the hits, because I can’t stand to see our state go with four more years of what we’ve had.”

In a post-debate interview, Brownback said he doesn’t control all the advertising done on his behalf. But he didn’t denounce any of it either.

“My ads have all been issue-oriented,” he said. “There are other (Republican) groups, and they choose to run the ads they choose to run.”

And he blamed Davis for the negative tone of the campaign.

“I haven’t seen Paul Davis put up a positive ad yet,” he said.

Brownback and Davis will meet for their final scheduled debate of the campaign in Wichita on Tuesday at the annual convention of the Kansas Association of Broadcasters.

Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or dlefler@wichitaeagle.com.