Gubernatorial hopeful visits Washburn

ReAnne Utemark

On Nov. 15, the Washburn University Pre-Law Association invited Sen. Jim Barnett to discuss his candidacy for governor. The Republican senator began the interaction by speaking with several of the gathered students individually.

He opened his speech by explaining his background, both professional and familial, and also discussing how he became involved in local politics. Barnett attended Emporia State University and still resides there. He represents the 17th congressional district. He has two children and that is how he became interested in public service. Barnett became president of the USD 253 Board of Education and held that office for four years. During that time, he helped to campaign for a keg registration policy that required all kegs bought within the city limits to be registered to the buyer. The policy gradually increased to the entire county and then some of the surrounding counties. He then wanted to take it to the state level.

“I could see my bill being killed,” said Barnett. “My bill died. So it sort of opened my eyes to the idea that maybe if I want to have influence on public policy beyond Emporia, I should run for the Senate – so I did.” When Barnett decided to run for Senator, the only political experience he had was through the BOE and he was still practicing medicine full-time. After he was elected, he continued his practice in Emporia. Much of his work has been health related and he has become the chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee.

The first year he was in office, Barnett passed the keg registration legislation through the senate. He did this by taking an empty container to the Kansas Statehouse and placed it in a casket. The second year the law passed.

“Often, I think, it takes some issue that moves you to get involved. I just bet there are issues that will move you, as well,” said Barnett.

Barnett then moved on to his stance on certain issues. He cited certain issues such as the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights, stem-cell research, taxes, and “social issues” as very controversial. He never implicitly discussed these issues with the audience, but said he was willing to in a later question and answer session. He then proceeded to share his reasons for wanting to run for governor and his visions for the state.

The first issue he brought forth was the economy. He wanted to strengthen the economy to help put more funds towards public education and roads. He cited the statistic that Kansas has lost 22,000 private sector jobs, but has gained over 10,000 government jobs and that the median family income has gone down. He also explained that businesses are afraid to come to the state because of the high taxes and the concern for current businesses.

“We need to look long-term on how we can make this state business friendly,” said Barnett.

The second issue the senator addressed was schools and school finance. He was proud of the funds spent on schools, but expressed regret that the Supreme Court now has control over school finance rather than the legislature.

The final issue discussed was about health care. He spoke about prevention to help health care costs in Kansas. According to Barnett, the leading causes of death are smoking, obesity and alcohol. He wants to deal with prevention efforts, which he believes are lagging. He also told the audience about a two-fold program passed last year that requires pharmaceutical companies to give a sharp discount on prescription drugs to clinics that offer reduced or free services.

After finishing his speech, Barnett opened it up for questions from the audience. The questions ranged from Intelligent Design to his plan to strengthen the economy.

“I was shocked by his honesty in that he wasn’t conservative enough without his running mate,” said Shanna Bruce, a freshman History major. “I couldn’t really get a clear view on his position and he didn’t seem too concerned about teenage voter apathy.” Barnett’s running mate is Senator Susan Wagel from Wichita.