KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Democratic candidates in the Kansas gubernatorial race gathered in the metro on Tuesday evening for a debate just under a year from the election for the state's next governor.
The debate was hosted by Johnson County Young Democrats and was held at the Johnson County Library. The event covered multiple issues, including gun rights, the economy, immigration, healthcare, female reproductive rights, redistricting and increasing young voter turnout.
Candidates Josh Svaty, Jim Ward, Robert Klingenberg, Arden Anderson and 16-year-old Jack Bergeson attended the gathering while candidate and Wichita mayor Carl Brewer gave a short, recorded speech before the debate.
While the election for the governor’s seat remains months away, the debate served as a chance for candidates to reach voters.
“End of November, end of December the year before, there's already a lot of energy and interest in the race,” explained former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture and state delegate Josh Svaty, who is running for the office. “I think it shows Kansans are paying attention."
Audience members were also able to submit questions to the candidates.
State delegate and House Minority Leader Jim Ward said the event was a chance for voters to see what each candidate offered.
“Kansans are open to good ideas, and never more than this year,” he explained. “Kansans are wanting to hear what you're going to do to build a better state, and that's why Democrats and myself particularly are going to win the race."
The debate also featured an uncommon sight in traditional politics: a teenage candidate.
Jack Bergeson, a 16-year-old high school student from Wichita, sat in the middle of the table for candidates. Beforehand, he spoke to 41 Action News about being part of the gathering.
“I bring a different perspective that most people haven't really thought about,” Bergeson explained. “With the younger generation, we have our opinions.”
As a teenager running in the gubernatorial race, Bergeson hoped to offer an important voice for the election.
“Even if I don't win, I presented a voice to who the next governor is so that they're looking at the issues for all Kansans,” he said.
Bergeson is one of five teenagers who have declared their candidacy for the Kansas governor’s race. Jim Ward said their inclusion in the race was a good thing.
“I think anybody who is willing to discuss issues seriously has a right to stand up there and give their opinions,” Ward explained.
The debate was held on the same night Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach hosted a high-profile event with Donald Trump Jr. at the DoubleTree Hotel in Overland Park.
Ward told 41 Action News that Kobach’s decision to invite Trump Jr. was an important signal for the Republican front-runner’s campaign.
“What our opponent wants to do, he brings in a Washington insider with Wall Street money to say, ‘Four more years of Sam Brownback,’” Ward explained.
With big crowds for both the Democratic debate and Kobach event on Tuesday night, candidates said the metro showed the significance of the Kansas gubernatorial election.
“We are important,” explained Democratic candidate Josh Svaty. “The way Kansas goes in some respects shows how the rest of the country can go."