TOPEKA — Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer has a simple explanation for why he’s running for governor.
He says his wealth of business experience and success in cutting costs while leading a state agency make him uniquely qualified among the Republican candidates.
“We have proven that we can bring simple, basic, business practices to state government and make it better -- make it better for the people of Kansas who are receiving service, making it better from a cost perspective. We know it works.”
Selzer spoke with The Topeka Capital-Journal for an episode of the Capitol Insider podcast, which examines people and ideas in Kansas politics.
The Kansas economy is languished and worsening, Selzer said, while surrounding states are growing. Although his work at the insurance commission isn’t complete, he is seeking the governor’s office to make a bigger impact.
“Leaning in on costs and taking care of customers is an ongoing job,” Selzer said. “It is never done. But we need to bring that kind of culture and attitude to the broader state government, or we will never get control of our costs in our state. We will never get our economy to grow again.”
Other states are opening new markets, championing ethanol, working with other governors and talking about their agriculture, he said. From his perspective, Kansas needs a governor with a louder voice. He promises to be an advocate, promoter and salesman for the state.
His running mate is Jenifer Sanderson, of Goodland. She serves on the Northwest Tech Endowment Association board and was chairwoman of Leadership Kansas.
“She brings such a wealth of knowledge. She focuses on advocating for the western part of the state.”
Selzer said he would have opposed former Gov. Sam Brownback’s disastrous supply-side tax plan if he knew the cost of state government wouldn’t be lowered to balance declining revenue.
“He was trying to starve government,” Selzer said. “That’s different from what I’m talking about when we say ‘lean in on costs.’ I’m saying be innovative. Be thoughtful about how we deliver services. Let’s make sure the services we’re providing are needed.”
When it comes to Medicaid expansion, Selzer sees the Affordable Care Act destroying the health insurance agency through cost and regulation. As it is, he said, it is too costly to be sustainable.
Expansion in Kansas would bring about 140,000 people into the fold. Half, he said, already have coverage, and most of the rest are able-bodied adults. Any effort to give them coverage would need to come with a job, education and community service requirement, he said.
“I’m not saying I would veto it,” Selzer said. “I am saying we don’t need it here in Kansas. It is too costly, it is too competitive with the private market, all kinds of things that are not good about it.”
He doesn’t know what Kansas Supreme Court will do in response to new legislation that addresses public school funding, but he hopes the court allows schools to stay open if more work is needed. He supports a constitutional amendment that blunts the court’s authority on the matter.
Schools need more accountability, he said, and they need to be more aligned with the needs of business community, preparing students to fill jobs.
Although “rock solid” on the Second Amendment, Selzer draws a line at arming teachers. The issue should be left up to local school boards, he said, limiting the practice to teachers who are trained and comfortable carrying a weapon.
“One of my differentiators from the other candidates: I don’t think paying cash incentives to teachers to carry guns in schools is needed,” Selzer said. “In fact, that is, in my opinion, a rather silly idea.”