Government & Politics

Former state Sen. Jim Barnett set to enter Kansas governor’s race

Jim Barnett of Topeka will formally announce his candidacy for Kansas governor next week.
Jim Barnett of Topeka will formally announce his candidacy for Kansas governor next week.

After taking a break from public office, a former candidate for Kansas governor announced Friday he’ll make another run at being elected to lead the state.

Jim Barnett, a Republican who lives in Topeka, announced in an email Friday afternoon that he’ll soon start his campaign for the governor’s office.

The formal announcement will happen next week during a two-day, nine-stop tour, according to the email. No stops in the Kansas City area are on the agenda.

Barnett, who grew up on a small farm near Reading, Kan., said in an interview earlier this month that he sees “a lot of problems (in) the direction that the state has taken in the last five years especially.”

“I think it would be fun to fix it,” Barnett said of why he wants to be the next governor of Kansas following Gov. Sam Brownback’s time in office. “I welcome the challenge.”

The 62-year-old physician served in the Kansas Senate from 2001 to 2010, representing an area that included Emporia.

He ran unsuccessfully for the governor’s office in 2006 when he lost to Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius easily won the race with roughly 58 percent of the vote, while Barnett pulled around 40 percent.

Barnett said during the interview that he supports Medicaid expansion, and he referred to Brownback’s tax cuts as a five-year tax experiment that had a “dismal result.”

Growing the economy is going to require a partnership with education in a way the state hasn’t done before, he said.

“I think Kansas can do so much better economically than what we’re doing right now,” Barnett said. “And I think that’s really one of the key issues for the next governor, is to help figure out how we can help this state’s economy grow.”

He joins a growing field trying to replace Brownback, who is in his second term and cannot seek re-election in 2018.

“If we want all of Kansas to do well economically and grow, communities need to have good schools and good hospitals, or health care accessible, and good roads and infrastructure as well,” Barnett said.

Clay Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, said of Barnett, “Right now, he’s got as good a shot as anybody.”

“He knows what he’s getting into because he ran before, and he’s been involved with politics for a long time,” Barker said.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and oil magnate Wink Hartman have already announced their campaigns. Former Johnson County lawmaker Ed O’Malley announced he’d formed an exploratory campaign for the governor’s office earlier this year. Lt. Gov Jeff Colyer has yet to formally announce whether he’ll run.

On the Democratic side, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Josh Svaty, a former state secretary of agriculture in Kansas, have already said they’ll seek the office.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw