WICHITA – Kansas Democratic governor candidate Josh Svaty faced attacks during a Friday debate over his position on abortion rights from other Democrats in the race, who were dismissive of his promise to veto any further abortion restrictions.
Svaty, who had an antiabortion voting record when he was in the Kansas House, said he would block any additional restrictions and called restrictions passed over the past few years unconstitutional. He promised that his pick for lieutenant governor, Katrina Lewison, would form a commission focused on expanding women’s health care.
“I think I am capable of doing this because I come from a rural area: We need a governor that can explain to the entire state that this state of Kansas should not be spending our time passing blatantly unconstitutional legislation” like a law that sets font sizes in abortion clinics or bans certain types of abortion used in the second-trimester, he said.
Those laws give Kansas a “black eye,” Svaty said.
But Sen. Laura Kelly and former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer pushed back against Svaty, saying they have always had records in favor of abortion rights. Brewer said he and his running mate, former Gardner mayor Chris Morrow, had always been pro-choice.
“I can’t say that for the others,” Brewer said.
When it comes to reproductive rights, Brewer said, you’re going to stick with it all the way without deviation, “or don’t stand up and say that you are. Just tell the truth. You are or you’re not.”
Kelly said she has a 100 percent record on reproductive rights, but in a rebuke of Svaty, said vetoing bills doesn’t go far enough. “We need to get those rights back,” she said.
“I don’t think we go far enough when we say ‘I will veto any more restrictive legislation regarding women’s rights in the state of Kansas.’ Kansas has almost nowhere else to go to restrict women’s access. We are over the top,” Kelly said.
Abortion is one of the biggest divisions in the Democratic race, with Kelly and Brewer regularly pressing Svaty on his antiabortion record. Svaty has said he was representing the constituents in his rural House district.
He took a step in May to try to boost his abortion rights credentials among Democrats in naming Lewison as his running mate. “Quite simply, I’m pro-choice,” she said during the announcement of her selection.
The abortion issue may come to define the Democratic primary for governor – the first contested one in 20 years. The candidates broadly agree on child welfare, taxes and Medicaid expansion, but have fought over their records on abortion.
The primary will force Democratic voters to balance their desires against the ability to attract votes from independents and Republicans.
“There are not enough Democrats in the state of Kansas to elect a governor. You must be able to attract independent and moderate voters,” Kelly said.
Kelly said she had a track record of attracting independent voters and noted that she has competed in a district that leans Republican. Svaty countered that he had beaten a Republican by a significant margin when he was first elected to the House at the age of 22.
Brewer said a Fort Hays State University poll had found he has the highest name recognition among the Democratic candidates.
After the debate, Barbara Kice, a Wichita Democrat, said she was undecided.
“I think I’ll just have to see how it develops in the next month or two,” she said.
This article provided by NewsEdge.