Greg Orman, Independent candidate for Kansas governor, visited Kansas State on Friday to sit down with the editors of the Collegian and answer questions about policy, his qualifications and other matters related to his candidacy in the November 2018 gubernatorial election.
Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: How do you believe Governor Brownback’s economic policies have affected the people of Kansas, and what ideals would you set in motion to counteract or work with these policies?
Orman: “I think Governor Brownback’s tax experiment was a big mistake, but his biggest mistake was when all the evidence suggested it wasn’t working [and] not changing course. My background is in the private sector. I built companies for a living, and private sector companies that ignore inconvenient facts go out of business.”
Rafael Garcia, editor-in-chief: We are a college publication, serving as the voice of Kansas State University. How will you reach out to the college-aged population here in Kansas?
Orman: “We are looking to build active programs … and engage young people in the campaign and hopefully talk to them about issues that really matter to them. … We [will] address the issue of higher education affordability, which seems to go unchecked. No one seems to be looking out for that group of people.
“We look at this race — there are a lot of young people who have entered the governor’s race, and I actually think that’s a very good thing. I’ve got an old saying: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.’ Unfortunately, so many young people, because they don’t get involved in the political process, their needs don’t get met.
“We are hoping to be able to build campus programs on every university campus, talk to younger voters about issues we think really matter to them … and what we are going to do is drive a positive outcome for them and hope to get them engaged.”
Garcia: You mentioned the availability of higher education. What ideas do you have to address that?
Orman: “If you look at it at the federal level … we spend well over $100 billion a year trying to make education more affordable to people. We do it through guaranteed student loan programs, Pell Grants, HOPE Scholarships, tax credits, and yet we then allow universities to ultimately do whatever they want to do with prices.
“The state of Kansas has to get back to the point where we restore funding to higher education, but then we also have to look at the universities and say to them, ‘Well, we are going to do our part, we are going to expect you to do your part,’ which means you can’t increase tuition, books and fees by more than the rate of inflation in the general economy.
“That’s a big part of it: accountability. We have all kinds of policies oriented around making higher education more affordable, and then we don’t uphold the recipients of that aid accountable for achieving that public policy goal.”
McLaughlin: Why did you decide to run for governor, and what do you think are the key parts of your platform that will define your campaign?
Orman: “I think Kansas is at a critical juncture, and the people of Kansas know that the system is broken. I believe that what happens over the next five years is going to define the path that Kansas is on for the next several decades. I’ve got two young daughters — I want them to feel like they can build their lives in Kansas, and I am concerned that if we don’t change course, that isn’t going to happen. I decided to run for governor because I believed that we have a vision that can change the state of Kansas and make it a place we can all be proud of again.
“The first [priority] is making Kansas a leader again. … I think we can make Kansas great again by embracing innovative policies that solve our problems [and] fix our politics. … The second thing we need to do is that we need to make government more transparent, effective and accountable to reporters. … Our third priority will be about growing the Kansas economy. … Another priority is really addressing the issue of health care access and affordability. … The fifth thing that we need to do is to protect the pillars of our community. If you look at what makes Kansas great, it’s always historically been that we’ve got really good schools, we’ve got great infrastructure, we’ve got great critical access facilities and we’ve got to do what we can to protect those pillars of our community.”
Dene Dryden, chief copy editor: You talked about health care access and affordability. How does that include reproductive health care access?
Orman: “I’ve got six sisters and two daughters, and I want to make sure that they have access to the health care they need. … I think so often those issues are the ones that divide us, but I don’t think we’re all that far apart in reality.
“I think the elephant in the room there is abortion, and I think everybody agrees that we would like to reduce the number of abortions. But in my mind, the way you do that is through access to contraception, it’s through education and it’s through economic factors.
“We’ve seen great success in places like Colorado, where they’ve opened it up and we’ve seen significant reductions in the abortion rate. I think if you want to see reductions in the abortion rate, you’ve got to invest in health care resources.”
Garcia: On Wednesday, you announced your candidacy. What do you think you’ll do differently this time based on the lessons you learned campaigning for senate back in 2014?
Orman: “[In] 2014, I think we built a really solid foundation of support all throughout Kansas. … In fact, I think we had almost 1,000 people who wanted to volunteer in the end and it sort of overwhelmed us, so I think we’ll have a little better organization this time to be able to really use the talents of people and … get them involved and engaged and active in our campaign.
“Other than that, the benefit that we have this time is we are starting much earlier. Our campaign in 2014, we started in June. This time, we are obviously starting several months earlier so we will be able to get around the state more and we will be able to meet more people, bring our message to more folks and … hopefully build on that foundation of support that we built in 2014.”
McLaughlin: Why did you choose to be an Independent candidate, and did it come from your own conceptual criticism of the current state of Kansas politics?
Orman: “What I’ve observed — particularly in Washington — is that Democrats and Republicans are no longer capable of working together. They are far more interested in seeing the other party fail than they are in seeing our country succeed.
“I describe Democrats and Republicans now, particularly those in Washington, as a married couple going through a bitter divorce … and sending them to Washington to solve our problems is kind of like putting that married couple in a room and telling them to work it out. It’s just not going to happen without the intervention of a third force.
“I am a political Independent because I put my country and my state ahead of any political party, but also because I cannot see myself participating in a system that I think is divisive, counter-productive and is daily allowing the greatness of America to slip away.”
McLaughlin: What do you think is going well in the state of Kansas government-wise, and how do you plan to build on that?
Orman: “I actually think we are heading in the right direction as it relates to vocational education. Not everybody is ultimately able to make it through and get a college degree, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t want our kids getting some level of higher education. What we’ve found is that in many cases, some of these skilled jobs go unfilled, and they actually lead to a great middle class life.
“I think focusing on vocational education, helping those kids who aren’t able to actually get a college degree and have an aptitude for a degree in a vocational area is not only good for the state of Kansas, but good for those kids. It’s something we’ve started to move toward, and I think it’s something we need to continue.”
McLaughlin: What elements of your life have uniquely qualified you to serve as governor of Kansas?
Orman: “I’m the second oldest child in a single-parent family with six kids. I got free and reduced lunches, I got subsidized products from the Department of Agriculture. … I went to college with the benefit of the guaranteed student loan program, and ultimately I’ve been able to live my own version of the American dream. I think I understand the struggles that people go through.
“I’m a big believer that even though you’ve made it and been financially successful, those of us that have climbed the ladder of success, we shouldn’t pull it out from behind. I think that childhood and growing up in that [way] has made me very empathetic to what people go through.
“And by the same token, I’m a serial entrepreneur. I started my first company when I was 23. I started and built and sold many companies over my life. As a person who deals with startups and turnarounds, I deal with companies at the most difficult time of their life cycles. Generally, you have to figure out how to get better outcomes with limited resources, and I think that’s precisely the job we have here as governor of Kansas. We have to get better outcomes with limited resources, and so I think I’m uniquely qualified.”
Conrad Kabus, managing editor: With K-State pushing to be recognized as one of the nation’s Top 50 public research universities by 2025, what are some strategies your campaign has laid out to increase innovation in research?
Orman: “Far too often, there’s a disconnect between what folks on campus actually want to research and what industry wants to see researched, so I think we need to do a much better job of communicating between industry commerce and the university to make sure we have alignment along that dimension.
“I understand if you’re a university professor and work at a university, that means by definition you’re a very intellectually curious person … and you sort of want to research what you want to research. … I think we need to find a way to create better alignment because the more we can commercialize the research, the more resources we will have to plow back into the system in terms of royalties and other benefits you can get when you take raw research and you actually commercialize it.”
Garcia: I think my sports editor might kill me if I don’t ask this question, but the K-State/KU game is Monday. Who do you go for?
Orman: “You know, that’s a really tough question. … I am a K-State football fan, and in terms of basketball, I’m going to do a political thing here and avoid answering the question.”