Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley said he decided to join a crowded GOP gubernatorial race largely because he believes Kansas needs “a new path” forward.
The Wichita Republican, who represented Johnson County’s 24th District in the House from 2003 to 2006, officially launched his campaign in October. Prior to that, he visited many communities as part of a listening tour that he said helped shape his campaign priorities.
“The campaign really revolves around a belief that what’s going on in Topeka right now isn’t working,” O’Malley said Wednesday during a stop in Hays. “The last seven years, we’ve been on a destructive path, and we need to get to a new path. And we can.”
His legislative priorities focus on “three big ideas,” the first of which is to grow the state economy. O’Malley said he firmly believes strengthening the state’s education system would foster economic growth.
He said school funding should consistently be a high priority, and noted he does not fault the Kansas Supreme Court for its ruling this fall that state funding is inadequate. It’s an issue O’Malley is familiar with, as he served in the Legislature when a similar court ruling was handed down in 2005.
“If you look back at school finance in the last 25 years and you said, ‘What’s the vision for schools?’ I think you’d be left believing the vision is compliance,” he said. “The only time anything big happens in education is when we’re trying to comply to a court order. Again, I’m not chastising the court. But I think we need a different vision. We’re just going to start with a big, bold vision to be the best in the world.”
He suggests the first steps toward that goal would be to set clear metrics, and O’Malley said he believes two of the most important are high school graduation rates and the percentage of students who achieve post-secondary credentials.
Improving education outcomes also will require the state to provide adequate resources, and then trust educators to do their jobs in achieving desired results, he said. Education is one of the top two concerns he says he repeatedly hears from Kansas residents, who fear the quality of public education could be slipping.
“What I like about a big, bold vision is we can’t keep doing things the same way and accomplish something that big,” he said. “We’ll have to change some fundamental things about how we do education in Kansas.”
O’Malley said the state’s financial situation is unhealthy, and said steps must be taken to “transform the culture” inside state government. He said the state’s finances are the other main concern he hears from many Kansans.
“The state government is very unhealthy right now. The culture inside it is not strong. We’re asking too many people inside state government to do more with less,” O’Malley said. “I’m a Republican. If the Republican Party is supposed to be the party that runs things like a business, we’re running things like a very bad business right now.”
It’s also imperative, he said, for the next governor to provide leadership in working beyond political lines to find bipartisan solutions.
He had sharp words for GOP rival Kris Kobach, saying he does not believe electing Kobach as governor would take Kansans in the direction they want to go, calling him “extreme” and “out-of-touch.”
“When you ask people, ‘When you think about the future of Kansas, what concerns you the most?’ they don’t say the types of things my opponent Kris Kobach is talking about all over the state,” O’Malley said. “They don’t bring up voter fraud. They don’t bring up immigration. It’s amazing what happens when you ask big questions and you listen, not to reply but to learn. It’s amazing what folks will share and how they’ll help point a path for you. I don’t know if Kris Kobach has ever asked Kansans an open-ended question.”
O’Malley, who was founding president of the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center, has announced a series of town hall meetings throughout Kansas focusing on some of the state’s biggest issues. The first monthly meeting in January near Kansas City will address the topic of gun violence. Additional meetings will be announced at later times.
“This whole thing stems from a frustration that people in politics, especially when running for office, tend to try to hide from the toughest discussions,” O’Malley said. “I don’t think that’s what leadership is. … I think people are craving elected officials who will bring people together to address the toughest issues.”