His choice might be a bit unorthodox, but Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett says he chose just the right person to be his running mate — his wife. Rosie Hansen was announced as his candidate for lieutenant governor June 1.

The couple has been married since September, and joke that their honeymoon has been a year-long tour of Kansas on the campaign trail.

“There were two citerial that I used. No. 1, I wanted someone that was correct on the issues. … We’ve driven almost two years now on the truck, 72,000 miles,” Barnett said during a visit to Hays on Thursday. “The first year, we just asked Kansans what they wanted in their next governor, the direction for the state and what they saw as answers. And so we developed what we call our One Kansas agenda by doing that, and actually we found that Kansans not only know the problems — they know the answers, if they just have someone to listen to them.”

He said his second criteria was wanting to choose someone who easily could transition and take over as governor in his place if something unexpected happens.

Hansen grew up on a farm near Americus and earned a master’s in public administration from Kennedy School at Harvard University. She served as a foreign service officer in the Department of State from 1985 to 2011, with several overseas assignments. That experience in foreign relations, Barnett said, could be valuable to Kansas in trade endeavors.

Hansen said she feels “wonderful” about her new role, but noted it took some convincing. Her husband first had floated the possibility about six months before she agreed, she said.

“We were talking about recreating a functioning state government, because that is clearly one of the things that needs to happen in our state. We’ve decimated quite a few parts of it,” Hansen said. “We have parts that we know aren’t working very well. And I said I would like to help with that. I said that’s something I feel like my skill set would really fit in. And he said, ‘That’s true. But to do that, you need to be on the inside, not on the outside.’ ”

Throughout the campaign, improving public education and access to mental health services have been among Barnett’s top priorities. He has announced an education plan he calls his “ABCs of education.” A stands for advancing early childhood learning and establishing early childhood learning centers for children with adverse childhood experiences, such as abuse or neglect.

“Those children can be helped and saved if they’re helped early,” Barnett said. “Advancing early childhood learning is what we see as a way to break … a generational slide in the family in Kansas. The amount of generational poverty, behavior health, substance abuse issues around the state is astounding and disheartening.”

Other priorities in the plan call for adequately funding public schools and ending years-long litigation between the legislature and supreme court, and working to promote career-driven education opportunities such as technical trade schools. Barnett noted higher education opportunities are essential, but there are many openings statewide for high-paying technical jobs.

“Our B is to be out of court for multiple reasons, but we’re sending a message to young people that we don’t value teachers and we don’t value education,” he said. “So every superintendent we speak to, the application stack for new teachers is down to here. And it now takes four, five or six years to train, so we have a real teacher shortage issue.”

Barnett — a Topeka physician — said it’s essential to strengthen the state’s mental health care system following many years of funding cuts. He ties that issue to Medicaid expansion, also saying the state’s current KanCare program is a failure and needs to be replaced.

“The KanCare system is a broken system now. This is Governor Colyer’s pet project, but basically his idea of reform was to throw the keys away to three for-profits. United Healthcare’s CEO made over $66 million in his last public, stated salary,” he said. “They take 8-percent profit off the top, plus administration costs. Those are dollars that should be staying in Kansas.”

He also cited concern with the lack of transparency in the program, noting the post-legislative audit was unable even to evaluate the multi-billion dollar program due to a lack of data.

Barnett said water also is an important issue, especially to western parts of the state, and eluded to ongoing efforts in Hays to secure a long-term water source.

“It comes into our ag and livestock agenda, but water is a huge issue and Hays some very unique issues,” he said. “So we need a governor who’s going to look both short and long term at water issues.”