Jim Barnett says the idea that the Republican nomination for governor is a two-person race is far from the truth.
Barnett, an Emporia physician and former state senator, and his wife and running mate, Rosie Hansen, U.S. State Department, were in Hays on Friday and discussed several issues as they wrapped up their primary campaign.
Barnett noted his campaign has focused on six main issues: agriculture, economic development, healthcare, tourism, changing the state’s image and how to retain young people in Kansas.
“Having said that, we’re an out-of-the-box campaign in the Republican party. We’re not here today to talk about abortion or guns or illegal immigration, although we’re happy to talk about that.
“We think the state is ready to elect a governor who will use common sense and actually fix problems,” he said.
The notion that the GOP nomination is between Gov. Jeff Collyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach is a narrative the candidates created with their polls, Barnett said.
“First the secretary puts out polls that show him way ahead, and the governor has put out polls that have shown him to be ahead, and one was showing that he surged to a lead even though it was still within the margin of error,” he said.
“They’re both candidate polls, which makes them unreliable,” he said.
“Polls reflect the voting patterns of people who still have a landline and will answer an unknown caller,” he said.
“I’ve asked consultants and pollsters, ‘Do your polls really represent the electorate?’ The answer is no.
“So this is not a two-person race, and, of course, the only poll that matters is the one that comes on Aug. 7,” he said.
Barnett and Hansen discussed several topics, starting with questions from HDN social media followers. Their answers are presented here, edited for clarity.
Our first question is from Rita in Norton and she wanted to know your views on Medicaid expansion.
Barnett: We very much support Medicaid expansion for both humanitarian and economic reasons. If people don't have access to healthcare, they wait until it's too late, maybe lose a limb or lose a life. So for that reason alone, we should be expanding Medicaid. The other reason, as you look at what's happening, the hospitals around the state, they're struggling to stay open as hospitals have become the bank for the uninsured and a bank can't stay open if it's not solvent and nor can a hospital.
We have sent over $2.7 billion, that's with a b, of our own tax money out of state to other states that had expanded Medicaid and yet have refused to do so here, and that's been both decisions of Gov. (Sam) Brownback in the past and now Gov. Collyer as well.
I want to just make a few more comments about that. Sixty percent of community hospitals around the state are having to be supported by local tax to keep their doors open, so 60 percent of our hospitals receive either a local property or sales tax to stay open. At the same time, we’re sending tax money out of state, so that's how crazy it is.
And just one last comment about Medicaid and KanCare, it's been privatized. The CEO of United Healthcare, one of the three for profits that run KanCare, his salary is over $66 million. That's money that should be in Kansas, not out of state and for profits. It should be supporting hospitals, and it should also be supporting nursing homes because this goes beyond just hospitals.
KanCare is either delaying payment or not paying enough. Nursing homes are either closing around the state or they're refusing to accept new patients, and many Kansans, through no fault of their own, have outlived their resources. So if you're spending six, seven, eight thousand dollars a month to stay in a nursing home, no matter how hard you work or how long you save, you run through that quickly. So this is just some other issues we have with KanCare and Medicaid that need to be fixed.
The next question is from Ron in Hays. He wanted to know how you think Kansas can get control of gun violence and stop the senseless crimes that are taking place, and also how you would make schools safer.
Barnett: The most important things that I can do as governor to start, first of all, comes back to adequately funding schools because schools need to invest in the alarms, cameras, blocks, doors between rooms, so if some shooting incident, God forbid, does happen, that the students can move from one room to another; they're not trapped in a room.
Any new school building built today is going to be built under one roof because you don't want to have one building where you have an open space for students to walk to another for a shooter to have that opportunity.
So a part of it's funding. We need to invest in consultants to look at a building and decide what bushes need to be taken out, trees removed and so forth. So part of it's the money.
The second thing, and most important thing that we can do I think as governor and lieutenant governor, is restore and rebuild a functional mental health system
During the last seven and half years with Brownback, and Colyer, mental health has been systematically dismantled. It is just amazing what walks in the door now to schools, and it's just incredibly sad to us, and what's happened with mental health care in Kansas …. You know, we used to be a very progressive state. We looked like a state that was doing the right thing for mental health care. Now we address mental health care in one of four ways.
One is emergency rooms, where people spend hours to days and emergency rooms staff, they're not trained or their rooms are not as safe, they’re not adequate for the issues they are dealing with.
The second area is in our jails. We talk to law enforcement across the state, and that's how they spend much of their day. So we're incarcerating people with mental illness. That's not where they should be.
Third, is in our schools, and they're not equipped or trained either, and fourth, either in homeless shelters or out on street.
So are those the two areas that we would start with. That's not where it needs to end, but that I think as governor that's the most important thing that I can do.
Hansen: There is kind of related issue here, which is some of the problems that are walking into schools today. And what we've discovered is, it's connected really to the Department of Children and Families.
When we have these family failures and children who are in the school system that can't get the mental healthcare that they need or other healthcare that they need, or that just need to be taken out of the environment that they're in. We've talked to a lot of principles and school administrators who told us when they call Department of Children and Families, they don't get answers. They don't get help. And that's just something that we need to focus on as well. I think it's related to the other issues in the mental health care field.
School funding has been a tough problem for the state for several years. And of course, as you said, it's going to take money to make our schools safer. How do we make schools safe and still adequately and equitably fund them? Do we need a new school finance formula?
Barnett: I think that the current school funding formula has a great deal of history to it that has been developed to meet the diverse needs of the state. When you look at different levels of cities and communities, different abilities of cities and communities to raise funds, the funding formula has been adjusted to make that fair, more equitable.
So if one community can raise a very small amount of money, but another community can raise a hundred times that, the formula adjusts for that. So it has been tweaked and adjusted in a way that's tried to help adapt the formula for the entire state. So there can and will be further adjustments in the formula.
It's really money and inadequate funding that is the issue in my opinion. So the state, the Legislature has not adequately funded. That's the No. 1 issue, I think, related to school funding.
Now I want to want to get down in the weeds a little bit if I may here. I think the bill the governor signed with an inflation factor is the direction we should go, but we'll be right back in court, I believe, in time if we don't change our standards that we used to measure use of tax dollars and outcomes for students.
We're using what are called Rose Standards from the 1980s in Kentucky, and they're not standards at all. We just call them standards. They're things like you should know your emotional well-being and your physical health. Those are good things. Of course, we can't measure those and they're from the last century.
We need standards that are pertinent and measurable for 2018-19 in our state. I think those standards are under our nose with Kansas Can and the redesign going on in our schools on the front end.
If children are not ready for kindergarten, soon after they're lost. That is something that should be a standard. It's measurable, and we should focus on that with laser focus.
On the back end, on measurements for standards and accountability with taxpayers is this: Can graduates get a job? Can they fill the workforce needs the state has? Those fifty thousand open jobs right now, can we grow our economy and fill those jobs?
We're still using standards that basically say everyone should go to college. Our graduation standards are still pretty much looking for markers that determine if the student is ready for a four-year degree when, in reality, there's so many young people who won't go there and don't need to go there to have successful careers and get good paying jobs.
So we have to change those standards to stay out of court and have accountability to tax dollars. And that's really what's this is. This is not about courts and taxes and spending. It's about leadership. And that's what we recognize as governor and lieutenant governor is we've got to bring people together to develop those new standards. And that's really how we stay out of court.
Let's talk about immigration. As we know here in Kansas, agriculture, manufacturing and so forth depends at least somewhat on immigrants. What would your solution be that you think would satisfy people in controlling illegal immigration, but yet providing the workforce that's needed?
Barnett: It's an interesting question and I think it shows the influence of the secretary of state on the gubernatorial race because this is a governor's race. Not a presidential race or congressional race or United States Senate race.
The issue of the border in the wall and border security are all federal issues. Now we're left to deal with the aftermath of their colossal failure to deal with those issues. So I just want to sort of set the direction of our discussion.
Of course, we should have secure borders, and all workers in the state should be here legally. I want to put those to qualifying statements out front.
Having said those things, we are left to deal with the mess in Kansas, and as governor and lieutenant governor, we will deal with the issues we face Kansas in a humane manner. We recognize the importance and value of immigrant labor to our state's economy. It is not just agriculture, but if you take away the immigrant workforce from ag, you will kill ag. The reality is our entire state is dependent upon an immigrant workforce. We understand that and respect that.
You didn't ask about it, but we don't support policy such as separating children from families.
Hansen: The children and family issue was just kind of appalling, frankly, and un-American in my opinion. I don't know where harming children is never correct and it doesn't matter whether those children are Americans or citizens of another country. You do not harm children and we are harming children right now. We have to stop that. It must stop.
If you were governor and you were asked to send in National Guard troops to these centers where the families and children being kept would you send them, or would you refuse?
Barnett: If they are sent to separate children and family, I will refuse, and if they were at the border and I became governor, I would bring them home.
Are there any other issues you wanted to address?
Barnett: You know the election is Tuesday. So many voters are just now tuning in, believe it or not. So we think these visits are important to let you and your readers know that we understand the state goes all the way to Colorado. This is our 15th trip to the west. And I know we're not fully west yet. We very much want you to know in Hays that Hays means as much to us as any other part of the state.