The notion that the gubernatorial election will be more coronation than contest took a welcome break Saturday for the Kansas State Fair debate between U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City.
Regrettably, too much time was devoted to bashing Washington, D.C., and each other over federal issues such as illegal immigration, federal bailouts and health reform — playing to the crowd but saying little about how best to govern Kansas. Setting such things aside, what did the debate tell Kansans?
* Brownback wants to lead an overhaul of the school finance formula that, among other vague goals, would devote more of the dollars to classroom teaching. He thinks school funding levels should be set by the Legislature and governor, not by school districts suing the state and winning at the Kansas Supreme Court. Left unsaid was what Kansans should do when state leaders shortchange their constitutional mandate to "make suitable provision for finance" of public schools.
* Holland is more interested in protecting and increasing K-12 funding than reforming it.
* Brownback believes that with lower taxes, less regulation and a state spending freeze, Kansas will see economic growth. His agenda includes creation of an office dedicated to finding laws and regulations ripe for repeal — an idea Holland mocked, arguing that should be up to the Legislature.
* Holland views himself as better prepared to implement the new 10-year, $8.2 billion transportation plan, given that the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which has endorsed Brownback, fought the plan and the sales-tax increase to help fund it.
* Brownback is open to changing how Kansas chooses its appellate court judges; Holland isn't. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," the latter said.
* Both Brownback and Holland want to build on Kansas' strong foundations in animal health, agriculture and wind power.
With the state facing so many challenges, Kansas deserves to see more such debates — even if the bid by Brownback, the most powerful Republican in a GOP-dominated state, seems unstoppable.
Whoever wins Kansas' top job should have to work for it.