De La Isla, LaTurner clash in first debate

Titus Wu
The Topeka Capital-Journal
Candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, left, and State Treasurer Jake LaTurner debate Wednesday evening at KSNT News studio at 6835 N.W. US-24 highway.

Candidates for Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District faced off for the first time Wednesday night in a debate hosted by KSNT.

Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, a Democrat, and State Treasurer Jake LaTurner, a Republican, ran through a variety of topics quickly in the 30-minute event, all the while accusing each other.

The topic of policing featured heavily in the debate. LaTurner repeatedly tried to tie De La Isla to national Democrats and certain policies.

“When I talk about people at the national level supporting Michelle De La Isla’s campaign, I’m talking about (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi, for one, sending hundreds and thousands of dollars to win this race,” he said.

“That is false,” De La Isla interjected.

LaTurner suggested that Pelosi’s money was related to her cutting funding from a plan that would support police officers. He repeated multiple times throughout the debate that De La Isla supports defunding the police.

“I absolutely love my police officers,” the mayor countered at one point, and said at another time that the Topeka Police Department has a budget above $40 million. “Under my leadership as mayor, we have increased $5 million that budget.”

De La Isla said it is still important to address the underlying systemic issues that marginalized communities face. LaTurner, however, focused on the low morale of police officers across the country.

De La Isla fought LaTurner on the issues of health care and Medicaid expansion.

“I would like to remind Mr. LaTurner that he and (former Gov.) Sam Brownback, while they were both in office, voted to (get) rid of Medicaid and did not expand Medicaid in our state,” she said.

She than began citing hospitals closing and the number of people dying from the coronavirus while people still remained uninsured.

LaTurner pushed back, saying De La Isla’s proposal of a public health care option would close rural hospitals. He also said one of her health care-related campaign ads was dishonest.

“The people of the 2nd District can count on me every single time to support covering pre-existing conditions in Congress,” he said.

Both said they supported local control when it came to the COVID-19 response, but LaTurner emphasized how national Democrats supported a national mask mandate.

“I have been advocating to have at the city level and the county level leadership ability, so that we are able to communicate directly with our constituents,” De La Isla countered.

LaTurner said resources need to be pulled as quickly as possible into work on a vaccine so people can get back to work as soon as possible.

“We need to bring our supply chain back from China and produce medication here in the United States,” he said.

De La Isla said that fixing the situation will be difficult considering the rhetoric from the national level.

“It has been extremely difficult to get the message across because leaders at the federal level have been talking about how the virus is not as serious,” she said, likely referring to Republicans like President Donald Trump, who has downplayed virus fears since the beginning of the pandemic, despite being hospitalized with COVID-19 himself.

Both remained divided on other issues discussed, such as immigration and gun control, with each staking out their parties’ positions.

In his closing statements, LaTurner again tried to tie the mayor to national Democrats.

“We learned the reason why (national Democrats) and other liberal, radical politicians are sending in hundreds and thousands of dollars into this district, to make sure Mayor De La Isla is elected,” he said. “These folks couldn’t find Kansas on a map, but they definitely want to have another liberal vote come from Kansas. I know that you don’t agree with that.”

De La Isla said she hadn’t attacked her opponent at all during the debate and had focused on the issues.

“My only concern right now is you. I don’t care about our parties. You can be a Republican, an independent, and I am still going to serve you with dignity and with grit,” she said.

Moderated by Bob Beatty, left, chair of the political science department at Washburn University, candidates for the 2nd Congressional District seat Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, middle, and State Treasurer Jake LaTurner debate Wednesday evening at KSNT's studio at 6835 N.W. US-24.