At an agriculture conference on Thursday, two candidates for Kansas governor spent very little time talking about agriculture policy.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer didn’t dive into specifics in a speech that had been billed as his vision for the future of Kansas agriculture. And Ken Selzer, the insurance commissioner, declined to outline his agricultural agenda.
The Kansas Ag Summit brought together a who’s who of state officials and agriculture experts. U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall spoke about crop insurance and Gov. Sam Brownback discussed water policy.
But Colyer, who will become governor if Brownback is confirmed as an ambassador, largely stuck to broad themes that he had voiced before, telling several hundred attendees that he planned to listen to Kansans.
"We have some tough, tough decisions to make together, but we’re going to do those together and that’s what’s so exciting about Kansas – whether it’s ensuring water, or it is an ag summit, or it is making sure we have great schools across the state. We’re willing to do that," Colyer said.
Colyer briefly mentioned rural broadband access. He later told reporters that the state has some gaps.
Last month, Microsoft announced a nationwide initiative to improve rural broadband access. The company will launch projects in 12 states, including Kansas, the technology news site ArsTechnica reported.
"We’re very isolated and I think broadband, if we’re going to advance production agriculture, we’ve got to have all the technology we can get," said Rep. Larry Hibbard, a Republican from Toronto, a town of 265 that’s a 90-minute drive east of Wichita.
But talk of broadband was the exception. Kara Fullmer, Colyer’s press secretary, said Colyer couldn’t speak about specific policies at this point, noting that there is one governor at a time.
Selzer, approached by reporters, would not share his vision for agriculture.
"I actually think we’re a little bit ahead of the game here – we’ll develop our policy this fall," Selzer said, adding that he’ll have plenty of "good, solid" ag policies later.
The hesitance to talk about even the outlines of policy comes as the race for governor remains unsettled. Multiple candidates have jumped in over the past month on both the Republican and Democratic sides and more may do so.
Though most Kansans live in urban areas, more than 32 percent live in rural areas – a wealth of votes with the ability to swing an election.
Brownback, a former state secretary of agriculture, emphasized agriculture as governor. But it’s unclear whether the 2018 candidates will focus as much on the industry.
Sen. Tom Hawk, D-Manhattan, said Colyer’s address didn’t include many specifics, but that he liked what he had to say.
"I particularly liked what his staff is saying: that he wants to work together across party lines, wants to meet with some of us Democrats, which didn’t really occur with Gov. Brownback much," Hawk said.
The conference, the second annual, served as kind of valedictory event for Brownback. He received multiple standing ovations, a warm reception in a state where his polls have tracked his declining popularity for years.
Brownback touted his work to slow the decline of the Ogalla Aquifer, which supplies water – including for irrigation – to much of the state. He spoke of Kansas as a "good land with good people."
President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. There is no timetable for when the U.S. Senate will take up his confirmation, but it is widely expected this fall sometime.
"Today’s a bit of a swan song," Brownback said.