Accountability is lacking in state government, and if he is elected Kansas governor, Republican candidate Ken Selzer intends to change that.
“We cannot continue to throw money into different aspects of state government without demanding some outcome evaluation,” Selzer said Monday during a visit to Salina. “If we aren’t setting metrics to measure and then demanding accountability on our spending dollar, we’re not using your tax dollar very wisely. We absolutely need more accountability.”
From the administration of KanCare to effective use of economic development incentives to state funding of schools, Selzer — a certified public accountant who is currently Kansas insurance commissioner — said he believes expectations need to be spelled out and met to ensure that state tax money is being efficiently spent.
“Otherwise we’ve got a runaway freight train on expenses,” he said. “We have to stabilize our budget — bring down the cost curve, build the Kansas economy. The first effort is to bend the cost curve.”
Selzer, 64, who visited the Journal office after speaking at a meeting of the Kansas Association of Fraternal Agents in Salina, said the state’s biggest issue in the coming years is likely to remain the budget.
“Costs are going up, and the economy is flat. The first step is we’ve got to bring those into balance,” he said. “None of it’s easy, but we need somebody waking up every morning thinking about it and how we can do that.”
He said in the insurance commissioner’s office, he had good success in decreasing staff by about 20 percent but improving efficiency so that the increasing number of requests coming in were handled well.
"We need to stay focused on bringing some sense to the Kansas budget,” he said. “Kansas has to grow, and our cost curve has to be brought down. We need to be every day leaning in on costs, leaning in on customer service and thinking about how we can make Kansas grow again.”
Selzer, who holds a degree in accounting from Kansas State University, said he was encouraged to run for governor by people who saw the “thoughtful, calm nature” in which he managed the state insurance department with a focus on customer service. He said his Kansas office was the first insurance commissioner’s office in the nation to utilize online chat interactions, so one employee could assist several people at once.
“We’ve had a really good result in bringing some really basic business management practices to a government agency,” Selzer said. He said he intends to do that statewide if elected.
“There are people wondering why we can’t bring that same deliberate management style to what seems to be a chaotic state government,” he said. “We want to manage Kansas better.”
He said the state has been “fluttering along at a growth rate that is less than the national average.”
“There are all kinds of reasons for it — low commodity prices, low ag commodity prices, low oil and gas prices — we need to take a step beyond that and figure out how we can make Kansas grow again,” he said. “If we don’t make Kansas grow again we’ll never be able to make investments like we need to make in our future.”
He said more than 40 percent of the Kansas economy is agriculture production, and the Kansas governor needs to be more directly involved in working on trade and markets. Selzer said he was born in McPherson County and grew up on a farm near Goessel. He owns farmland and said he understands the issues.
“We ought to be in Mr. Trump’s office working on trade issues for ag,” he said. “There will be even bigger surpluses of grain if we don’t get trade figured out. We need to be forceful. We need to be heard on ag issues in the president’s office at the federal government. We’ve got two great senators. We need a governor who is actively championing ag.”
He said industrial hemp could be a new crop opportunity, but only as far as federal law allows. He said he would also support making marijuana available for medicinal use if federal laws permitting it are enacted.
In other issues facing the state, Selzer:
• Wants to see corrections programs focused on recidivism. He said there’s a direct correlation between lower recidivism rates and programs that allow inmates to earn a GED or community college degree in prison. He would also like to see more mentors involved with teenage children of inmates or former inmates.
• Supports Second Amendment rights and would not support an increase in age to purchase guns or a restriction on AR-15-type weapons. He said he does not support offering cash incentives to teachers for carrying a weapon at school. He said intra-agency communication must be improved to prevent holes in background checks.
• Describes himself as pro-life.
• Wants to focus on bringing Kansas’ young people back to the state.
“I think the colleges and universities could help us with that,” he said. “They have their alumni networks and know where their people are. We ought to be working with them to advertise Kansas as a place to come back and raise your family. We have so many skilled people that we train and they leave. We’ll never be able to make our Kansas economy grow unless we have more workers.”
Selzer said he thinks he is the right person to manage state government in a transparent, effective way.
“Kansas means a lot to me,” he said. “We can make Kansas better. We can make it grow again, and we can live within our means.”