Former state ag secretary seeks governorship

Farmer and rancher Josh Svaty is no stranger to hard work and he plans to take that mindset into the gubernatorial race.

Svaty, 38, of Ellsworth is seeking the Democratic nomination for Kansas governor. A graduate of Sterling College, he served in the House of Representatives from his election in November 2002 until being appointed to be the state’s secretary of agriculture in 2009. Svaty served in that position until 2011.

He has a rolled up sleeves approach to governance. With a tight farm economy, a governor has to recognize the challenge of his rural constituents.

“These have been hard years in agriculture,” Svaty said. “Every politician is going to tell you that because they have read about it. But there’s a difference between a politician talking agriculture with a bunch of farmers and one who has been there with his bank lender, who is also his friend, talking about the need to extend his operating loan.”

Challenges in agriculture

Svaty knows the income tax policy change made seven years ago shifted the tax burden to property owners. The 2017 Legislature changed course and that will help in the long run. He wants the state to work on its strengths and that includes rebuilding roads and bridges.

“We have to be focused on ways to get our commodities outside our border. If we don’t we are adding cost to the producer and making him less competitive with other states.”

Kansas needs to focus on agricultural manufacturing found in many towns in the Sunflower State.

“The beef and grain industries are very important to our economy but if you look at manufacturing in small communities they are largely agriculturally-based and locally-owned,” Svaty said, adding the state needs to explore incentive policies to help those companies grow.


Svaty gave former Gov. Sam Brownback credit for making water issues a priority in his administration. Svaty, who started the conversation about water when he was state secretary of agriculture, said much work is ahead.

“It’s not a plan if it is not funded,” Svaty said.

The state needs to have a discussion about dedicated funding for natural resources. For many years, Missouri has earmarked a portion of its sales tax for its natural resources, Svaty said.

“I understand the state is pretty tight right now and it is going to be tight for a long time. If we have a good water plan but we don’t have a fund to implement it then it won’t do us much good,” Svaty said. “The Ogallala Aquifer is so important to western Kansas. Part of it is making sure that cities across the eastern part of the state have their issues addressed, too.

Economic development

Last fall Tyson abandoned plans to construct a $320 million chicken processing plant in Tonganoxie that would employ up to 1,600 workers. Later in the year Tyson committed to a similar project in Tennessee.

“Any large facility or small facility­—but in particular a $320 million one—you should do a substantial amount of due diligence on the ground and not in secret. If you are going to ask for public funds, you have an obligation to be up front with the taxpayers. I think all of us need to realize that one of the reasons they looked at Tonganoxie was because of the workforce and its proximity to the Kansas City.”

The state has packing plants in western Kansas, he said, and that is a natural place to look at.

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“The only thing we lack out here is additional workers to fill that extra capacity. We don’t want to do anything to jeopardize the workforce we already have and our ability to have more people and workers here because it is an enormously important part of our state’s overall economy,” the candidate said.

A governor can direct programs and policies for larger and smaller communities. “You will never have 100 percent agreement but you can find places that work hard to make it happen and everyone winds up successful,” Svaty said.

Trade, other issues

As governor, he pledged to be an advocate for Kansas agricultural products. Farm policy is a federal issue but a governor can be an advocate with missions and use his bully pulpit to communicate with the White House and Congress and provide common sense regulations in working with Environmental Protection Agency.

He also advocated a policy to exempt sales tax on groceries that helps everyone, particularly lower income and working families.

“We have one of the highest sales tax rates on food in the country,” he said. Reducing or eliminating the tax on groceries would be welcomed by Kansans. “People will say now is not the right time but it seems you are always hearing from people that it is never a good time. It is never a bad time to help lower income people. The sales tax hurts everyone from higher income to lower income households who all need to buy groceries.”

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].