Six months ago, while driving in their truck, Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Barnett turned to his wife of a few months, Rosie Hansen, and told her he knew who he wanted his lieutenant governor to be.
"She was kind of excited about that and asked who. And I said 'You.'" Barnett said Thursday during an interview at The Telegram as part of a statewide campaign tour.
Hansen quickly continued the story.
“And I said, 'You're crazy. I'm not a politician.”
Barnett said that’s exactly why Hansen was the right choice. After months of discussion, the two agreed to add Hansen to the ticket, officially announcing the decision on May 31.
Barnett said he had disregarded the idea of choosing a running mate for political reasons. As far as the criteria he cared about — a deep understanding of the issues, the ability to accomplish goals efficiently and the connection and trust to hypothetically carry on in his place — Hansen checked every box.
That’s nothing to say for Hansen’s experience and interest, which both Hansen and Barnett believe qualify her for the job.
Hansen spent 26 years as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department, during which she went on embassy assignments in Bangladesh, Germany, Bosnia, Australia, Afghanistan and Thailand. At the latter four, she served as minister counselor with lead oversight of embassy management operations.
Holding a law degree from the University of Minnesota and a master's in public administration from Harvard University, she said she brings a “breadth of management experience” to her and Barnett’s ticket. She has ample experience in international commerce and said such a background helped her understand how Kansas can maximize its marketing potential for agriculture and aviation products.
She has seen firsthand what works and doesn’t work in government, she said. It’s part of the reason she decided to join the campaign.
"We were talking about recreating a functioning state government. And I said, you know, I would love to get in there and work with agencies and think about how to (make them) more efficient, make them run better, and just help. And I think I have the skillset for that ... I realized, at some point, if you want to make a difference, if you see a way you can make a difference, you have to step up. Sometimes you just have to step up,” Hansen said.
Together, Barnett and Hansen are sharing their ideals under the banner One Kansas, or #OneKansas, a reference to the repeated desire for unity they heard from citizens across the state.
The header encapsulates Barnett and Hansen’s key issues, specifically growing the state’s economy, granting better access to healthcare, valuing education and placing an emphasis on early childhood development and career-driven learning, fueling tourism and changing the state’s image, and attracting and retaining young professionals.
Barnett has marketed himself as a moderate Republican distanced from his more conservative competitors. He said the other Republican candidates’ desire for tax cuts would have the state “continuing to live month to month, check to check,” hurting the state’s prospects and people. Instead of cutting state programs, Barnett said he wants to “invest in Kansas.” Hansen said by giving money to vital programs, such as infrastructure and business, it could stimulate economic growth instead of stagnation.
“Put money back in the bank so we can gain that interest or invest in the state. We see a state that used to have a great highway system, and now we bump along the road. Where we see also the need for more four-lane highways, especially in this part of the state for you to grow your economy. But we're never going to get there with the approach that the ... other three major Republican candidates are going to take us. That is the huge difference,” Barnett said.
As two kids from farms near the edge of the Flint Hills, Barnett and Hansen believe they are good advocates for rural communities. As the running mates travel across the state, they said, they hope to meet and represent all regions and emphasize that all corners of the state matter to them.
“We want people of western Kansas to know that we realize the state goes all the way to Colorado. That it doesn't end in Salina or Junction City or even on Wanamaker (Road) in Topeka,” Barnett said.
Barnett said he wanted to invest in western Kansas, in everything from its workforce to its infrastructure to its tourism. He mentioned potential programs, such as in-state student or teacher exchange programs or a governor’s tour around the state, that he hoped would help residents of different Kansas regions better see and understand each other.
"We really understand that if western Kansas doesn't do well, Kansas doesn't do well…” Hansen said. “The theme of our campaign is One Kansas. #OneKansas. Because it doesn't work. If one part of the state doesn't work, nothing in the state works. And I think the other candidates are all eastern Kansas centric. And we're not.”
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