GOP candidate: State’s economy heavily dependent on ag

A profitable agriculture and livestock sector is key to Kansas growing its economy, said a physician and former state lawmaker who is seeking the Republican bid for governor.

Jim Barnett, who grew up on a farm near Americus, spent many years in Emporia and served in the Kansas Senate. From his experience he knows a strong rural foundation is the core of a robust state economy. Young people want to return to small towns because of the quality of life it offers their families, he said.

Access to health care in rural areas has to be a part of recruiting and retaining young professionals in developing a comprehensive economic blueprint.

Barnett, 63, is a physician at Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka. He is a Reading native and also practiced in Lyon County and he also served on a local school board before going to the Legislature. The Republican primary is Aug. 7. Barnett made state history when he announced that his wife, Rosie Hansen, would be his running mate. She is retired from the U.S. State Department.

Jim Barnett said building a strong rural base takes a commitment to schools, highways and an equitable tax policy. The Legislature in 2017 reversed former Gov. Sam Brownback’s income tax plan that Barnett said was too aggressive and had unintended consequences because it underfunded essential services. Local governments had to look to increase property taxes to maintain essential services.

“With commodity prices so low as they are in Kansas right now I want to do all I can to protect farm families from an increase in property taxes,” he said. “One of the consequences from the Brownback tax experiment is it shifted the tax burden onto property owners.”

The regressive nature of property taxes stifle growth and business expansion, Barnett said. 


He commended former Gov. Sam Brownback for his vision on a 50-year plan on water quality and quantity. Barnett said building a consensus is necessary because that is the only way it can be funded and implemented. If it is feasible, a pipeline transporting water from the Missouri River to western Kansas could be a solution.

“We need to be able to move water from the east,” he said. “Water is significant to our state’s economy.”

It also means working collaboratively with other states that also rely on the Missouri River, he said. 

Tyson plant

The reason the Tyson poultry plant did come about in Tonganoxie, Kansas, was an indicator of what can happen when transparency and communication process is broken. The project was discussed behind closed doors and the “community erupted” when it found out it had been bypassed in the process. Respecting local control is a priority for Barnett when it comes to economic development.

“Ninety-five percent of economic development is local and we have to respect local communities,” Barnett said.

Roads and bridges

Kansas needs to return to a policy of long-term planning of improving roads and bridges and that will benefit rural communities, he said. If elected, he would work with the Legislature to put together a reasonable plan for consideration in 2019.  Both branches need to work together to accomplish a goal of getting highway improvements back on track, the candidate said. 

Workforce needs

Another issue that touches rural Kansans is workforce development. In nearly all cases, economic development is determined at the local level, he said, and in rural communities it takes local education and business interests working together, and the state should have policies to foster those relationships.

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“We have over 50,000 open jobs for carpenters, machinists, electricians and linemen,” Barnett said.

At one time, a university degree was considered the best path for success and that has changed, Barnett said. Today, many successful stories are from students who pursued a vocational trade.

Other issues

The state has other issues to face including caring for the needy and security at state prisons, he said.

“We need to have real leadership to make sure essential services are funded,” Barnett said. “I’m willing to do that.”

He was encouraged by news of state revenues are starting to increase, but added it will stake several years of “good news” to get the state headed in the right direction before cutting any taxes.

He also believes tourism opportunities continue go to untapped and that can be developed to help diversity the state’s economy

One of Barnett’s messages on his campaign trail is he believes people need to communicate with others, even with those with different views, so that the state can move forward.

“One Kansas,” he said. “If we are united we can solve problems.”

The candidate has two grown children.

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