Governor Jeff Colyer and Kansas Farm Bureau President Rich Felts stopped by the Great Bend Tribune on Saturday en route to the Ellis County Fair. Aides said Colyer was looking forward to relaxing in his hometown, Hays, but he and Felts have also been making some campaign stops since Farm Bureau endorsed him at the end of June.
Colyer said his priority as governor is to grow the Kansas economy with lower taxes and lower regulation. At the core of that mission are agriculture and world-class schools.
“Agriculture is central to the Kansas economy,” Colyer said, noting the industry’s $65 billion impact. “It is also our future.”
The Kansas Legislature increased funding for K-12 funding this year with a bill signed into law by Colyer. He said the action prioritizes outcomes for students.
“We want to make sure people have better jobs. Schools are central for us,” he said. “That’s one way of looking at success: Our kids see their future in Kansas.”
Colyer said he wants to “deal with our problems, invest in our economy and invest in our schools. We can do it and keep taxes low. Kansas added 20,700 new jobs in the last 12 months and unemployment is at 3.4 percent. (However), we have to have more investment and we need more skilled workers. People saw a 3.1 percent wage increase in the last year, which is better than inflation and a sign of growth.”
And in May, S&P Global Ratings revised the state’s AA-minus credit rating to stable from negative, citing the state’s stronger-than-expected revenue. “We’re turning the ship,” he said.
“We’ve been very active in trade from the beginning,” Colyer said. For example, after China announced a 179 percent tariff on sorghum in April, he visited with U.S. trade representatives, the White House and Chinese Consul General Hong Lei. A few weeks ago China backed down on the tariff, he said.
Colyer said he supports President Trump’s efforts to reach better trade agreements with other countries.
“We’re trying to increase the number of markets that we have. I brought in consul generals of Japan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, the Philippines ... they represent more than a billion people. We’re opening new doors. We need new markets.
“We’re working on solving the problem on a lot of different levels. We brought Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to Kansas,” Colyer continued. “Expanding our markets is also important to us. We’d like to get bilateral deals with countries that were in the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) group,” he said.
Felts said Farm Bureau is also working on trade issues. He traveled to Washington, D.C., in the past week and met with Gregg Doud, chief agricultural negotiator in the Office of the United States Trade Representative, to visit specifically about the trade issue.
Felts also visited with Sen. Pat Roberts, who is also “very concerned about trade,” he said. However, the biggest issue for Roberts right now is working on the Farm Bill.
Kansas Farm Bureau and Colyer also share an interest in improving Kansas’ broadband service. KFB is challenging a Federal Communications Commission map that suggests the state has near-perfect cellphone coverage. With a more accurate map, proponents say, Kansas could qualify for federal money to improve service.
“The FCC map shows broadband service statewide. We know that’s not the case,” Colyer said. “We’re mapping out what our broadband issues are. Our jobs of the future in Kansas require broadband access,” he said, adding high tech jobs “can be done in Chicago or in Great Bend.”
“We’re going to be able to put Kansas on the forefront in addressing some of the issues,” Felts said.
Colyer also pointed to the Transload Facility in Great Bend as a stellar example of Kansas moving forward. “The transload facility here is huge for us. It’s a real economic driver and it’s a long-term one. I’m really impressed with its growth — and the coolest ribbon cutting ever. (A locomotive from Watco Companies’ Kansas and Oklahoma Railroad parted the ribbon to christen the new facility in 2017). Those types of things are very important to us as a state.”
Colyer commented on his intervention last week that prompted the University of Kansas to take down an altered U.S. flag that was flying on campus as part of an art exhibit. KU said it would relocate the piece to the Spencer Museum of Art, which is exhibiting a nationwide public art project called “Pledges of Allegiance.” The controversial piece is “Untitled (Flag 2)” by German-born Josephine Meckseper, who now lives and works in New York.
On the exhibit website, Meckseper described it as a piece intended to unite Americans:
“The flag is a collage of an American flag and one of my dripped paintings which resembles the contours of the United States. I divided the shape of the country in two for the flag design to reflect a deeply polarized country in which a president has openly bragged about harassing women and is withdrawing from the Kyoto protocol and UN Human Rights Council.
“The black and white sock on my flag takes on a new symbolic meaning in light of the recent imprisonment of immigrant children at the border.
“Let’s not forget that we all came from somewhere and are only recent occupants of this country. ... It’s about time for our differences to unite us rather than divide us,” the artist wrote.
Colyer said the piece had a different effect.
“I appreciate art,” he said. “This was desecrating a flag and putting it on a flagpole at a taxpayer-funded institution. We told them it should be ‘returned to sender.’” Another alternative to returning the piece would be to have it disposed of in a flag cremation ceremony, he added.
“The American flag is the one symbol that unites us as a country. This one symbol that people have fought and died for should be a symbol of unity and not disrespected.”
Farm Bureau endorsements
Kansas Farm Bureau’s political action committee Voters Organized to Elect Farm Bureau Friends (VOTE FBF) released its candidate endorsements for state and federal races on June 29. Felts noted it is a grassroots endorsement process, with input from county Farm Bureau boards across the state.
The endorsements did not include one for U.S. Representative in Kansas’ First District, the position now held by Dr. Roger Marshall of Great Bend. Nick Reinecker of Inman is running against him in the primary; Alan LaPolice from Clyde is the Democratic Party candidate.
“We never said we’re not endorsing Dr. Marshall,” Felts said. “We said we won’t endorse him at this time.” Concerns include Marshall’s interest in landing a seat on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Were he to win a seat on Ways and Means, Marshall would most likely lose his seat on the House Agriculture Committee. Marshall gained Farm Bureau’s endorsement and was elected in 2016 after U.S. Rep Tim Huelskamp lost his seat on the House Agriculture Committee in 2012, and the seat remains important to keeping the support of farm groups.
Felts said committee members have spoken to Marshall and expressed their concern as the process continues. “We’ve left the door open,” he said.