Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Selzer prides himself on applying a business manager’s eye to state government.
After coming into office as Kansas’s Insurance Commissioner in 2015, he set about taking a hard look at the department’s staffing and spending levels. Over the course of about a year-and-a-half, the Kansas Insurance Department reduced its headcount by about 20 percent.
“We reduced costs, increased productivity quickly, and people saw that, and wanted to do the same thing for the broader state government,” he said.
In an interview during a trip through Johnson County earlier this week as part of a statewide tour introducing running mate Jen Sanderson, a northwest Kansas businesswoman and recent chair of the Leadership Kansas Board of Trustees, Selzer said he was running for the state’s highest office because he believed his business background put him in a position to address the issues that have hindered state government in recent years.
Of the 2012 tax cuts signed into law by then-Gov. Sam Brownback, Selzer says it was clear from the outset that the reductions would be “way too much if you didn’t cut expenses.”
“That didn’t work,” he said. “That’s pretty obvious that it wasn’t going to work. What needed to happen was some leadership from the governor’s office on reducing expenses.”
Selzer said he’s committed to no tax increases and would like to see a marginal tax reduction, but that state government must make commensurate cost reductions. He said he believed a close examination of the structure of state agencies and which employees are assigned to which tasks may result in the ability to reduce personnel and other costs.
“We can be thoughtful about how we arrange our jobs and organize our jobs. That’s managing state government. And we haven’t done that for the last eight years,” he said.
He’s also critical of the lack of oversight of contractors tasked with executing certain state functions. He points to KanCare, which has faced a slew of problems since it launched in 2013, as a prime example.
“KanCare was an ideology that was implemented that was not managed,” he said. “The governor’s office walked away from the management of KanCare. They thought that since we turned over to private contractors it would take care of itself. It never is that way. Any businessman knows that.”
On K-12 funding, Selzer said he believed the best way to stop the cycle of litigation around the finance formula was a constitutional amendment providing a definition to the word “suitable” in Article 6.
“We need more definition there. I would advocate in favor of a constitutional amendment that provides more definition to the word suitability. We need a governor who stands up and advocates for that.”
Full audio of the interview with Selzer and Sanderson is embedded below: