Daily Archives: Oct. 30, 2012

Surrogate presidential debaters square off at WSU

Representing Mitt Romney, David Kensinger makes a point while Rep. Jim Ward, (center right) representing President Obama, looks on. At left are political science professors Ken Ciboski and Mel Kahn, who served as moderator at the traditional surrogate presidential debate at Wichita State University.

It wasn’t Obama vs. Romney IV, but state Rep. Jim Ward and gubernatorial advisor David Kensinger tried hard to make it that way.

As Wichita State University’s Political Science Club hosted its traditional pre-election surrogate debate, Ward, D-Wichita, stood in for President Obama; Republican nominee Mitt Romney was represented by Kensinger a political consultant and former chief of staff for Gov. Sam Brownback.

Much of the debate covered familiar ground for those who watched the real candidates face off in their three debates – the economy, jobs, taxes, health care and the deficit were all in play.

And like the real candidates, both debaters had overarching themes they returned to repeatedly in their appeal for votes.

For Ward, the question of the day was “Are we all in this together or go it alone?”

Kensinger’s chief argument was that the president is the chief executive of the country and should be fired for “poor performance” on employment, poverty and the national debt.

“If you were dissatisfied enough with the performance of President Bush 43 that you fired him, by objective measurement, the performance of the 44th president was worse and he in turn then should be fired,” Kensinger said.

Ward acknowledged that Americans have been through tough times. But he blamed Republicans for blocking progress on solving the nations’s problems by setting their top priority as unseating Obama and taking an attitude of “we can’t agree with the president on anything.”

Meanwhile, they simultaneously purged their own party of moderate politicians who might have reached across the aisle, Ward said.

“Many people (Republican members of Congress) who were in the middle of the road were told that your political future is over if you vote for the stimulus, if you work for a long-term budget program that doesn’t voucherize Medicaid.”

Kensinger argued that Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, has a “proven record of bipartisan performance.”

“If we agree that debate is the way to move forward and we agree that bipartisanship and spending restraint are what is necessary … I can only offer you as an empiricist … what has happened before. Gov. Romney worked with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature, balanced four budgets and helped lead to overall job growth.”

Possibly the most telling clash of the surrogates’ conflicting views came when Kensinger cited the Negro Leagues of the early 20th Century as an example of how private-sector entrepreneurship can improve society better than government can.

Barred from the all-white Major League Baseball, black players said “If we can’t play in the major leagues we will build our own,” Kensinger said. “And our own will be so outstanding, the quality of play and profit we generate will force those who respect fair play and excellence — and who wish to maximize their market — to allow us in the game.

“It accomplished complete success, total integration within the world of baseball within two generations and without bloodshed,” Kensinger said. “The answer is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is most held down by excessive government taxation and regulation.”

Ward, however, said that government involvement was critical in integration, not just in baseball but society itself.

“I don’t think it would have happened without the Civil Rights Act of ‘64 and the Voting Rights act of ‘65 and a long litany of court decisions that said ‘No, you must include everybody,’” Ward said. “And that’s where I think government involvement is very important — not controlling, but saying, ‘No, no, we can’t wait another 100 years for the economy to grow us into equality.’”

WSU students who attended the debate split over who they thought won. Consensus was that it was close and some students said Ward and Kensinger put on a better debate than the real candidates had.

Said 19-year-old student Will Amos: “They both used more facts than the actual candidates do.”

Chamber, Democratic Party fuel final campaign pushes

Big checks from a few well-known Kansans enriched the Kansas Chamber of Commerce PAC, which attacked Democrats and bolstered conservative Republican candidates across the state, according to reports filed late Monday.

The money is playing big roles in the Wichita area and across the state as the chamber tries to brand Democrats as supporters of Obamacare because of their opposition to a mostly symbolic vote on an amendment to the state constitution opposing a piece of the Affordable Care Act requiring people to have health insurance.

Some legal experts say such a vote wouldn’t allow the state to opt out of the federal health care law, as conservatives suggest and as the chamber contends in its attack ads. But conservatives say it could have sent the federal government a signal and potentially help the state’s legal position if a new challenge arises, although the U.S. Supreme Court has since ruled most of the law constitutional.

Meanwhile, the Kansas Democratic Party drew big money from its candidates’ campaigns and then redirected that money to blast Republicans and back its own candidates in key races. It spent $680,000 to fuel candidates’ campaigns and pay for attack ads, such as those that label conservative Republicans as bad for education.

Republicans have pushed back, saying Democrats’ claim that Gov. Sam Brownback made the single largest cut to education in the state’s history is bogus.

A series of cuts under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson amounted to more, they say. And they noted that overall education spending is up, including a $40 million increase in the most recent budget. But Democrats say that reductions in per-pupil base state aid in the 2011 budget total the largest single cut, and they contend that, even though Brownback’s most recent budget signature gave more in per pupil aid, more should have been provided to restore cuts made in the wake of the recession.

Democrats recently apologized for attacking Wichita Republican Rep. Joseph Scapa in a mail ad. Their postcard said he voted for the 2011 budget that included education funding cuts. He voted against that budget.

The Democratic Party’s $680,000 in spending out-weighs the Kansas Republican Party’s $302,000 of spending, and many of its candidates are also getting help from the Kansas National Education Association, which added $68,000 to the $630,000 it had on hand in late July.

Its recent money came from relatively small donations, as compared to the state chamber. It spent about $280,000, mostly supporting Democrats, and has $418,000 headed into the last week of the election season.

Meanwhile, Republicans got a lot of help from the state chamber.

The chamber spent $543,000 during the most recent campaign finance reporting that covers July 27 to Oct. 25.

Crossland Construction Co., headed by Chamber Vice Chairman Ivan Crossland Jr., and its affiliates gave more than $200,000 to the chamber’s political action committee, about $122,000 of which came as a loan. The chamber loaned its PAC $170,00. And Wichita oilman and Chamber Chairman David Murfin gave the chamber $80,000. Outgoing House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, is the chamber’s new president.

Koch Industries gave $50,000 to the state chamber. The Wichita-based company and the political operations it supports have been in the national spotlight because of David and Charles Koch’s impact bolstering conservatives and attacking moderates and liberals from local issues in Wichita to the presidential campaign.

Koch infused the Wichita Area Chamber PAC with $25,000, making up most of the $35,670 that PAC raised since about a week before the Aug. 7 primary. The PAC spent nearly all of that on conservative Republicans.

The visible PAC money makes up only part of the campaign finance picture. Candidates also raise a lot of their own money and make loans to themselves to pay for ads and operations.

Meanwhile, third party groups, including think tanks and nonprofits, can raise unlimited amounts of money without disclosing where they got it and can spend unlimited amounts as long as it’s not in direct support of a candidate. That’s often avoided by urging a voter to be aware of someone’s record and to tell the candidate what you think instead of direct advocacy, such as telling people to “vote for” or “vote against” a specific candidate.

The undisclosed money played a big role in the primary as local and national groups attacked candidates, helping defeat incumbent Republican Sens. Dick Kelsey and Jean Schodorf. Meanwhile, Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell, a conservative Republican, withstood a series of blistering ads from a third party to become the Republican candidate in District 25 against Democrat Tim Snow.