As the gubernatorial race begins to tighten and some candidates pump the brakes, the frontrunners are beginning to emerge, and one GOP candidate believes a “calm and thoughtful” approach to the governorship is his way to stand out.
A certified public accountant and Kansas’ insurance commissioner, Ken Selzer drew a parallel during an interview at the Telegram offices on Friday, noting that there are three leading candidates and three statewide officeholders in the GOP race — all of whom are Republicans.
With one gubernatorial candidate already sitting in the governor’s office and another who has garnered national attention through his hardline stance on immigration issues and association with the Trump Administration, Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach are two of the most salient figures in the Kansas GOP.
Selzer’s task is to set himself apart as a name that will command attention at the ballot.
With $285,700 in personal loans and more than $427,780 in donations, Selzer had more money in his campaign coffers at the end of 2017 than Colyer, Kobach, and former state lawmakers and fellow gubernatorial candidates Mark Hutton and Jim Barnett.
Keeping those numbers in mind, Selzer told the Hutchinson News on Thursday that there is “zero” chance he will drop out of the race before the June 1 filing deadline, and he intends to announce a running mate in early May.
Trailing campaign funds sunk former state lawmaker Ed O’Malley’s bid for the governor’s office at the beginning of February, and Wichita oil mogul Wink Hartman dropped out later in the month.
Hartman had the most campaign funds of any contender at $1.8 million by the end of 2017, but most of that, $1.685 million, was self-funded through personal loans.
After dropping out, Hartman endorsed Kobach — even after having previously lambasted him as a career politician — amid speculation that he could become the secretary of state’s running mate, potentially bringing his cash reserve along with him.
When asked if that possible pairing of money and notoriety was a concern, Selzer said it won’t make a difference to his campaign, one based upon his financial experience and intent to run Kansas like a business.
Selzer says he grew up on a farm in central Kansas before attending Kansas State University and becoming a CPA. He has since become the most recent addition to the school’s Accounting Hall of Fame, in 2017, after being elected Kansas’ insurance commissioner in 2014.
Selzer’s current role as insurance commissioner charges him with responsibility for the review and regulation of Kansas-based companies, educating state consumers about insurance, assisting consumers in their disputes with insurance companies, and licensing insurance agents to sell insurance products.
As an indicator that he believes he has what it takes to drain the state’s fiscal swamp, Selzer touts drops of over 15 percent in his office’s personnel rolls and costs with better customer service results.
“That’s why we’re running for governor,” Selzer said. “Our effort will always be to bend the cost curve [and] improve the economy so that they’re going in the same direction. Right now, we have a cost curve that’s going up faster than our economy is.”
Selzer noted impending “budget issues” slated to come in 2020 because of deferred spending obligations, even after last year’s tax hike.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning has said that former governor Sam Brownback’s new budget proposal will put Kansas back in a deficit by 2020. But Brownback and others are hoping that $505 million projected to come into the state over the next three years in the wake of recent federal tax changes will make a crucial difference.
Still, President Donald Trump’s federal budget proposal cuts crop insurance by a third, something Sen. Pat Roberts said Trump promised he wouldn’t do last year. Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is predicting farm income in 2018 to be at a 12-year low.
Selzer says one thing that distinguishes him from other GOP contenders is his “deep, deep ag background.” He and his wife own a farm in Miami County, and he says the only way Kansas will continue to grow is if ag grows with it.
“Ag is at least 42 percent of our state economy,” he said. “It’s more if you add in the value-added processes and work manufacturing beyond the original production.”
Selzer said he would be the “chief salesperson for ag” if elected governor, adding that he would work with other governors in the middle states of the U.S. to take an active role in negotiations on trade issues with neighboring countries, even at the federal level.
Protecting farmers from consequences of potential natural disasters is another thing Selzer feels he might be especially qualified for. Two record-breaking wildfires over the last two years devastated large swaths of Kansas, Texas and Oklahoma, and climate conditions in the same regions are ripe for fires again this year.
Noting that the state already has taken significant measures to prevent another calamitous wildfire, Selzer called wildfires “a major issue and a major insurance issue.”
All things considered, Selzer says his ag and financial backgrounds set him apart from his high-profile competitors, as does his open criticism of the Brownback tax cuts.
For Selzer, the usual Kansas politics simply won’t cut it. Though he hasn’t explicitly championed tax hikes or promised to roll back those that already exist, he has said Kansas needs a different attitude about spending and a renewed focus on efficiencies.
“I am a calm, thoughtful decision maker,” Selzer said. “We can run the state more efficiently with less chaos than we’ve had over the last number of years.”
Contact Mark Minton at firstname.lastname@example.org.