TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - The 18th State Senate District race has a two-term incumbent accusing a retired sheriff of avoiding the voters.
In an interview with 13 News Wednesday, Democrat Laura Kelly questioned why Richard Barta has skipped out on six forums since Labor Day, particularly those hosted by education groups.
"My guess is his handlers have calculated that it's better to keep him under wraps rather than to allow him out and have to respond to questions," Kelly said.
In an interview in response, Barta told 13 News he's not hiding from everyone.
"I'm surprised by that comment because we've been to political forums," Barta said. "I've been to forums other candidates haven't been at that. I've been at meet and greets, fundraisers, walking the neighborhoods."
Kelly says Barta is avoiding detailing his stance on education and taxes, including support for Governor Brownback's tax cut plan.
"You can't be for that tax cut and also talk about being for education," Kelly said. "The math just doesn't work."
Barta insists education is a priority and his support for the tax plan isn't blind.
"It's law now, so let's work with it," Barta said. "It's a little more aggressive than I would have liked to have seen, but we need to give it a chance to work and, if it doesn't, then it will be tweaked."
Barta denies rumors that the Brownback administration is directing candidates like him to avoid forums, saying he's an independent thinker.
But Kelly insists voters aren't getting an opportunity to ask what his thoughts are.
"If you're not willing to face the voters now, what would you do as a senator?" she asked.
Barta says he missed some of the forums Kelly cites because he was attending to medical issues with his father.
Barta and Kelly have made at least two joint appearances at forums - a Sept. 4 event sponsored by the North Topeka Business Alliance and an Oct. 9 forum sponsored by the Topeka Independent Business Association.
They're running in the 18th Senate district, covering Shawnee County and parts of Pottawatomie and Wabaunsee counties.