Kansans choose their next governor Tuesday amid economic uncertainty as the state slowly recovers from the effects of the national recession.


 Kansans choose their next governor Tuesday amid economic uncertainty as the state slowly recovers from the effects of the national recession.
Republican Sam Brownback and Democrat Tom Holland seek to replace Democrat Gov. Mark Parkinson, who took the job after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services. Also on the ballot are Libertarian Andrew Gray and the Reform Party’s Ken Cannon.
Kansas’ jobless rate was 6.6 percent in September, compared with 6.5 percent in August and 7 percent in September 2009. But uncertainty remains, including the future of Wichita aviation manufacturer Hawker Beechcraft. The general aviation firm is restructuring its operations in effort to be more efficient and maintain as many of its 6,000 jobs in Kansas as possible.
Brownback has campaigned on creating a better business climate, including freezing government spending and establishing an office focused on repealing laws and regulations impeding growth.
“We must face the fact that Kansas’ tax burden is substantially greater than all of our neighboring states, apart from Nebraska. In particular, taxes on capital formation are killing new businesses where most new jobs are created,” Brownback said. “However, spending restraint must precede any changes to tax policy.”
Holland’s message has focused on growing jobs in renewable energy, biosciences and health care, saying Kansas has emerged as a leader in those areas and is poised for more expansion. He also intends to keep the state’s commitments to funding education.
“Companies take their jobs and their investments to states that have great public schools and a trained work force,” Holland said. “So to create jobs in Kansas, we must continue to invest in our public schools and technical training programs.”
Holland has been critical of Brownback’s education proposals to give districts more control over spending by allowing them to raise more taxes locally to fund education. Brownback also wants to change the current school finance formula, while Holland would keep the current formula, but would consider giving districts more authority to raise funds to satisfy their needs.
Coincidentally, the candidates will learn on Election Day just how much money is likely to be available for the first year of the next administration. A group of economists and researchers meet Tuesday to give the first fiscal forecast for the 2012 Kansas budget. Preliminary estimates show a potential shortfall of close to $300 million despite a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax in July to shore up state revenues.
Typical in any political race, outside issues found their way to the stage, including religion, outside supporters and debates about debates.
Brownback and Holland have shared the platform for debates once at the Kansas State Fair in September and at a televised debate in October in Wichita. The campaigns failed to agree on mutual formats for the remainder of the cycle, though Brownback did appear with Cannon and Gray in October in Topeka in a debate broadcast statewide on television and radio.
Brownback has shown no difficulty in raising funds, collecting more than $2.9 million through Oct. 21, compared to Holland’s $648,000 for the same period.
In September, the Kansas Republican Party filed an ethics complaint against Holland and the Kansas Moderate Majority Committee, a newly formed political action committee. The GOP alleges illegal cooperation between Holland and the PAC after it began running ads supporting the Democrat.
Among the complaints are that the PAC’s treasurer, Frances Gorman Graves, was a former Holland consultant and Democratic Party staff member. The GOP also says the value of the ad exceeds legal limits, if coordination did take place.
Holland and Graves have denied any cooperation and the ethics commission has yet to launch an investigation.
Democrats have countered by raising questions about Brownback’s association with Christian evangelist Lou Engle, who has gained international attention for his opposition to abortion and homosexuality. Holland has called for Brownback to denounce Engle.
Engle and Brownback shared a Washington, D.C., apartment after a fire destroyed the building where Brownback was living in 2000. In their ad, Democrats refer to Engle as Brownback’s “roommate and confidant.”
Engle has said the arrangement fulfilled a prophecy that he would meet a man named Sam Brownback who would run for president. Brownback ran for president but withdrew from the GOP field in 2007. During that campaign, Brownback spoke at an Engle event in Nashville, Tenn., where he urged Americans to find goodness, which would lead to greatness.
“(Kansans) should know that Lou said things that I don’t agree with,” Brownback said recently. “I haven’t talked to him in months.”