The Eagle’s endorsement for the Republican gubernatorial primary

Door to the Governor’s office at the Kansas Statehouse (January 22, 2014)
Door to the Governor’s office at the Kansas Statehouse (January 22, 2014) The Wichita Eagle

Jim Barnett receives our endorsement in the GOP primary because of his centrist, no-nonsense approach to the issues facing Kansas. While opponents Jeff Colyer (KanCare) and Kris Kobach (proof of citizenship) each have state government liabilities, Barnett has aspirational ideas to help the state continue to escape the doldrums of the Brownback tax-cut years.

Barnett, 63, has run for governor before. In 2006, the physician and state senator put his moderate views together with a conservative running mate, Sen. Susan Wagle of Wichita, and tried to bring the Republican Party together before the general election. It failed in a 18 percentage-point loss to popular incumbent Democrat Kathleen Sebelius.

My, the shift of tides in Kansas since then. A conservative takeover in 2010 led to eight years of Gov. Sam Brownback, but also to tax cuts that crippled the economy and created massive cuts in the state budget. But in the 2016 primary, Barnett saw another change beginning, this time to the center after voters elected more moderate Republicans and some Democrats.

“I saw that election and knew that the state was ready to elect that kind of governor,” Barnett said. “The challenge is, can I get through this kind of Republican primary?”

With the Republican primary race for Kansas governor drawing to a close, Jim Barnett is trying one last time to make Medicaid expansion an issue. File photo

He’s kept on the centrist path during the primary, refusing to tussle with three conservative challengers. They haven’t tussled with him, either — Barnett was the only major candidate to refuse to sign a pledge to appear in only GOP-controlled debates.

Barnett uses the term “Kansas values” — educate kids, build roads, take care of those in need and pass on something better to the next generation. In traveling Kansas since 2016, the words he heard most with Kansans were “one,” “unite” and “work together.” He’s banking on a more moderate Kansas — and Republican voters — seeing that he’s their candidate.

He wants the Legislature to fix the living adjustment for inflation in 2019 so the school-finance saga can end. He wants Medicaid expansion for humanitarian and economic reasons, calling Colyer’s assertion KanCare has saved $2 billion “a whopper.” He would reinstate Sebelius’ executive order, ended by Brownback, that would protect LGBTQ state workers from discrimination.

Those moderate views, Barnett believes, are shared by more Kansans than conventional wisdom thinks. He made this campaign’s most gimmicky move, selecting his wife as his running mate, but Rosie Hansen has a resume (26-year foreign services officer) that compares favorably with other lieutenant governor candidates. It shouldn’t keep him from representing Republicans in the general election.

Jeff Colyer has made no major missteps in six months as governor, his trial period after seven years as Brownback’s lieutenant governor. Colyer signed all major legislation sent to him, including a school-funding solution and a controversial bill allowing adoption agencies to refrain from placing foster children with LGBTQ families, Colyer has forged a conservative track in the primary, though not as far right as chief competitor Kris Kobach. He sees one of his top priorities as growing the state through making it more attractive to new businesses.

Colyer says Kansas should look forward, not backward, and that’s convenient for a governor who was second in charge during the dark days of Brownback’s failed tax experiment. Colyer doesn’t get a pass for being “just” lieutenant governor in those years. He was full-throated in support of the lower taxes to businesses and elimination of state income taxes to pass-through entities. That dropped state revenue by an estimated $2.8 billion from 2013 through 2016 and forced massive cuts to essential services such as education, prisons and the state’s foster-care system. Colyer’s own KanCare system, the state’s privatized version of Medicaid, has been plagued by a backlog of unprocessed applications, and 75 percent of Kansas Medical Society members surveyed said Medicaid patients moved to KanCare didn’t receive improved treatment.

Ken Selzer, of Leawood, has been effective in his three-plus years as insurance commissioner. Elected to the statewide office in 2014, Selzer touts that he has reduced manpower and costs by 15 percent while in the office, and that he would “lean in” on spending cuts as governor. He supports encouraging growth in the Kansas economy, particularly aviation and agriculture, as a way of reinvesting in education and infrastructure.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the most polarizing figure in the last 20 years of Kansas politics — that’s saying something after seven years of Brownback as governor — and he’s the last person Kansas needs in charge. Kobach champions conservatism, and that’s perfectly fine. He wants to cut state spending while lowering taxes, end legal abortions, and enact a constitutional amendment to keep courts out of school funding (the $525 million agreed to during the last session was unwarranted, he thinks).

But beyond Kobach’s policy promises, he has proven far too divisive for Kansas. His crusade against illegal immigration has embarrassed himself and Kansas in U.S. District Court earlier this year, losing the case (and being held in contempt) over his proof of citizenship requirement for Kansans registering to vote. What’s worse, he doesn’t seem to care. He’s right, and if you agree with him, you’re right, too. Everyone else better get out of the way. That’s not what we should want in our state’s leader. A good leader listens to all sides of an issue and creates consensus on following a best path. Kobach’s best path is traveled on a red, white and blue jeep with a fake machine gun mounted on the back. There are better options.

Also running are Shawnee entrepreneur and pastor Patrick Kucera, Prairie Village 17-year-old Tyler Ruzich, and Mission Hills 16-year-old Joseph Tutera Jr.

The winner will face the Democratic nominee in the Nov. 6 general election.

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