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State Fair debates prompt debate

8/21/2014

By MARY CLARKIN

By MARY CLARKIN

Special to The Hays Daily News

Kansas Libertarian Party candidate for governor Keen Umbehr said he won't do what he termed the "Colyer hokey-pokey" to inflate his campaign treasury and get a spot onstage at the Kansas State Fair debate.

Umbehr also said he doesn't want to play the victim, but he thinks it would be a better debate if he was allowed to share the stage with his fellow attorneys and gubernatorial candidates, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Democratic State Rep. Paul Davis.

Kansas Radio Networks/WIBW Radio will host the gubernatorial candidate debate at 10 a.m. Sept. 6 in the open-air arena at the Kansas State Fair. It will be followed by the U.S. Senate candidate debate at 11 a.m. Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, Democratic Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor, and independent Greg Orman, a businessman, will share the stage for that debate.

Libertarian candidate Randall Batson will not be included in the Senate debate.

Kelly Lenz, farm director with WIBW Radio/Kansas Agriculture Network, said they sent debate criteria to candidates early in the year. The WIBW criteria for participation is just half the debate criteria followed by the Kansas Association of Broadcasters, Lenz said.

For inclusion in the WIBW debate, a candidate must have at least a 5 percent showing in an independent pre-election poll; have at least $50,000 in non-personal campaign funds; and have a staffed campaign office other than their home.

Umbehr didn't clear the $50,000 hurdle. From Jan. 1 through July 24, his campaign raised approximately $19,910, and $17,500 of that was Umbehr's money.

The "Colyer hokey-pokey" referred to Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer's loan of $500,000 to the Brownback-Colyer fund right before a campaign finance reporting deadline at the end of 2013. That fattened the war chest, but the campaign soon gave the money back to Colyer. Colyer loaned another $500,000 one day before the July reporting deadline. The campaign has not reimbursed the July loan, according to John Milburn, communications director for Brownback and Colyer.

Umbehr said he could ask people to donate sums so he could qualify for the debate -- and then give the money back. But he doesn't intend to do that.

Umbehr planned to contact WIBW this week, in an effort to get into the debate. He also said he would ask the Brownback and Davis campaigns if they would support his inclusion. His idea is if they agree, WIBW would relent.

Milburn said they had not heard from Umbehr regarding the debate or his inclusion and had no further comment.

"We welcome an open conversation in this campaign," said Davis' press secretary Chris Pumpelly, but WIBW is the one running the debate and it will be their decision, he said.

Lenz said Umbehr will be offered air time on WIBW Radio for a separate interview later.

The Kansas State Fair will have its first three-candidate debate with the Senate contestants, according to Lenz.

That sent debate organizers to the Internet as they crafted new format rules. A simple coin toss between two candidates determines the order of delivery for opening/closing statements, but a coin toss wouldn't work with a three-man debate.

A Senate campaign debate in Delaware had three candidates, Lenz said, so they took their cues from that format. Senate debate participants will draw a 1, 2 or 3 from a hat, and that will determine the order for opening remarks. For closing remarks, they will go in reverse order, Lenz said.

Also, each of the three candidates will be allowed up to one minute to answer a question, and each will be allotted a rebuttal, Lenz said. There will be 13 or 14 questions in the gubernatorial debate; nine or 10 questions in the Senate debate, he said.

Even if Umbehr isn't on stage, he will be on the fairgrounds. His campaign is renting a house in Hutchinson for the duration of the fair, and he'll be a regular presence on the fairgrounds.

Lenz will moderate the governor's debate. He notes the Kansas State Fair has become the traditional location for the gubernatorial debate for nearly 30 years. In more recent years, U.S. Senate debates, which will be moderated by Assistant Farm Director Greg Akagi, also have become a regular feature of the fair.

A three-member media panel will ask questions of the candidates during both debates. Nick Schwien, managing editor of The Hays Daily News, and Michael Schwanke, a reporter and anchor at KWCH-TV in Wichita, will be a part of both media panels.

Alex Dingman, a news reporter at WIBW-AM Radio, will be the third member of the gubernatorial media panel. Liz Montano, a news reporter for the Kansas Information Network, will be the third member of the U.S. Senatorial media panel.