Kelly, Barta Face Off In Radio Debate

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The race for the 18th Senate District took to the air in an hour-long debate on 580 WIBW Radio's waves Sunday afternoon.

It was the first and only debate between Democratic Senator Laura Kelly and her GOP challenger, Dick Barta.

Barta, a former Shawnee County Sheriff touted his candidacy as a fiscal conservative.

"During those years serving as sheriff - I'm a fiscal conservative - we returned, over that 12-year period, $5 million," to the county general fund, he said.

Incumbent Senator Laura Kelly questioned those credentials.

"If you look at the record, his budget actually doubles from time be began to when he retired," Kelly said. "His budget went up at greater rate than county as a whole. So there's some question how conservative that is."

Kelly later said Sheriff Barta's salary had increased by 50 percent during his tenure. Barta disagreed with her conclusion.

"It's just not true," he said repeatedly. "The salary is set by the board of county commissioners."

On a recently enacted tax reform bill championed by Governor Sam Brownback, the two candidates' views were a bit more nuanced.

"The most pressing issue is to get back into the legislature and repeal that particular tax cut," Kelly said.

"To say that I'm for this bill, I think, is a little bit aggressive," Barta said. "But I think before we just scrap it, let's give it a chance."

Kelly and Barta used the question and answer format, moderated by interim news director Shawn Wheat, to reiterate their credentials and experience.

"I believe I'm an excellent manager and a fiscal conservative," Barta said.

"When I say that I'm an independent voice, I mean it. I do not operate in the Senate as a partisan at all," was Kelly's pitch.

Click here to listen to the full debate: