Ken Selzer’s vision of state government finances matches the reality of what agricultural producers face.
Selzer, 64, seeks the Republican nomination for governor. The Kansas primary is Aug. 7. The Goessel native grew up on a farm before heading to Kansas State University to get a degree in accounting. He graduated with a master’s degree and is a CPA. Since 2015, he has served as the state’s insurance commissioner.
If elected governor, he pledges an honest and sincere administration.
“Some people think we need to have huge cuts in services and some don’t know where to make cuts,” Selzer said. “Some want more revenue to fix the problems and others don’t.”
The fractured, partisan divide has made it tougher to find solutions, yet Selzer believes he has the ability to bridge that gap while overseeing a $15 billion state budget.
“We want people from across the state and all spectrums to understand the problems we are facing and make Kansas as efficient as possible. We will focus on moving state government into a more business-like operation and doing so in a sound and just manner like we have done in the insurance department,” he said in an interview at the High Plains Journal office.
Selzer said government officials should listen to their constituents and agriculture has his ear.
“Agriculture is at least 40 percent of the economy and if you add in all the processes tied to the industry it is more than half of the state’s economy,” Selzer said. “We face significant headwinds with trade, drought and other issues before us.”
Low commodity prices could stay a while, so it is imperative to find ways to make the agriculture and general economy grow, and the state’s top CEO can make a difference, he explained. “We have to start with a governor who understands agriculture and champions agriculture. I will be a sales person for the agriculture industry.”
Marketing the state’s agriculture products is essential and examples include bio-fuels and promoting value-added products.
“I am one who can articulate and explain the issues agriculture faces,” he said, “and how we can make agriculture great again.”
The state’s overall economy the past eight years has been underperforming, he said, and that has to change.
The state needs to have a budget in place with the Kansas Department of Transportation that allows for maintenance and improvements. As governor he pledges to avoid transferring monies out of the highway budget to meet general operations needs.
Having a long-term plan for water is also an important infrastructure priority, Selzer said.
“Water is a critical issue. Gov. (Sam) Brownback made a good-faith effort to make water more sustainable,” Selzer said. “We will continue to focus on water issues with the understanding water is also a property rights issue.”
Developing a sustainable and quality long-term supply has to be the priority for all Kansans.
Transparency is one of Selzer’s core principles. For example, when northeast Kansas failed to land a $300 million Tyson poultry plant—which would have brought 1,600 jobs to the state—it was an example of what can happen when good intentions are in place but the process was flawed. A large corporation understandably wants confidentiality, he said, and yet the discussion has to be balanced with a community’s expectations and perceived outcomes.
“Some of the issues should have been seen first hand,” Selzer said.
The Tyson project also brought to light the need for developing a workforce to meet industry needs and attract young families. Years ago, people talked about the college brain drain in which young professionals left for opportunities in other states, he said, and he believed today that is also occurring with vocational trades, too.
“We need to reverse the trend and that means attracting new people to Kansas to have the skills we need,” he said.
An advocate of early childhood education, Selzer noted that waiting until third grade to test children’s proficiencies is too late. Reading and comprehension skills are needed at an early age, he said.
He said he was supportive of removing the state sales tax on groceries as a policy that will help all Kansans.
“We have one of the highest food taxes in the country and that should not be and we also have one of the highest income tax rates in the region,” he said.
His wife, Deb, grew up on a farm near Louisburg, Kansas. The couple has two grown daughters and a grandchild.