Joshua Svaty, former state representative and democratic gubernatorial candidate, sat down to discuss promoting bipartisanship in the state of Kansas and how to improve the Kansas economy.
Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: How do you think your personal background has equipped you to be a good governor?
“It’s not like JoCo. I’ve had to remind my wife on numerous occasions, I’m like, ‘honey, there’s like only one plumber and one electrician so you can’t get angry at this person because we’re going to have to call them again sometime.’ … So politically it’s the same thing, you have to push and you have to advance the things you believe in, but you’ve got to figure out a way to do it to not repel everyone around you.”
McLaughlin: One of your prominent issues is education, what would be some tangible steps that you would take to “right the ship,” so to speak, regarding education in Kansas?
Svaty: “The broader ship that’s messed up, rocking, is the overall state budget and you can’t fix, whether it’s K through 12, or higher ed or transportation, any of the myriad of state programs that have been starved, you don’t fix any of them if you don’t stabilize that state’s finances.
” … Some of it is probably going to happen as hopefully the agricultural and the oil economies pick up, provided that our current president of the United States doesn’t destroy all trade as we know it.
“You need a governor that can balance that, an improving economy with the additional revenue that’s coming in to invest in those areas of the state that we have grossly underfunded. K through 12 is a part of that, but it’s really only just a part; higher ed is a huge part of it.”
McLaughlin: What do you think is the biggest problem facing Kansas residents today?
Svaty: “From a nuts and bolts perspective of the state, it’s definitely the fiscal stability of the state, but I think there’s a broader image problem. We see ourselves as backward and going down hill, and that’s not always been the case.
“I think we’ve largely been seen as a, for most of our history, as a very normal, well governed state; we pay our bills on time, we have great schools, we have nice roads and we have a government that works for everybody. That’s been the bulk of our 150 year history, and we’ve had a bit of a hiccup in the past eight years. I think that I am uniquely situated to address that.
“… We want Kansas to be a place of promise for the next generation, and I would argue that and energetic younger person may reflect that a little better than someone else. ”
McLaughlin: Why do you think international free trade is necessary to Kansas specifically?
Svaty: “We are a commodity based economy so we produce bulky items that are fairly cheap: grain commodities, beef, which is not as cheap as grain commodities, and then, even our oil and natural gas. I mean, these are bulk commodities and we compete globally for those items, and we are competing down to the pennies in terms of our capacity to move them from where they are produced to where they are going to be used.
“The bulk of what we produce is moved out-of-state, and if we don’t have external markets for our goods, that is a rough place for Kansas producers. We’re talking 2.9 million people here. We simply do not consume all of the grain and beef and pork that we produce in this state. Those items have always been destined for export markets so they are hugely important.”
McLaughlin: On your website, you said that all Kansans have the right to the American Dream; what is your definition of the American Dream and how can we protect people’s rights to that?
Svaty: “My brother is the head of the English department in Liberal High School and teaches kids that go to school all day and then turn around and go work an 8 hour shift at National Beef, and I’m sorry, but if someone is working that hard to improve themselves and contribute to the economy, then we have a moral obligation to provide for them a pathway.
“We can’t control citizenship here at the state level, but we have a moral obligation to provide for them a pathway to advance themselves without fear of their family being torn apart.
“… People that work hard and are good contributing members of society ought to feel like they are apart of the grand experiment that we have here in the United States and not just cheap labor appendages. ”
McLaughlin: How would you move to promote transparency between the people of Kansas and the government?
Svaty: “I’m a supporter of a state auditor. I think we should explore it, an independent office again. I think especially after the last eight years we owe it to ourselves to have someone that is seperate from the legislative process and the administration looking at long term contracts and processes and digging into our state agencies, making sure that they are doing what they tell the people of Kansas they are doing.”
McLaughlin: How do you believe the economic policies from the previous administration have affected the people of Kansas and what ideals would you set in motion to counteract or work with these policies?
Svaty: “Tax cutting is always fun, who’s not for lower taxes? You have to do it in a responsible way and you have to do it in understanding of what the state’s economic outlook really is. … Bad tax policy combined with a slumping oil and agricultural economy, we had real trouble.”
McLaughlin: How do you think you’re going to win as a democrat candidate in a severely red state during this time of deep polarization in our nation?
Svaty: “I think that’s what I offer that’s different than the other democratic candidates. Paul Davis ran in 2014. He ran a good race, very close, he won seven counties and of the seven, Riley County was the farthest West. We were categorically uncompetitive in the entire Western half of the state.
“The 50 western counties of the state only comprise nine percent of the population of Kansas. So, it looks like it’s not that many people, but they tend to swing most elections. … If a Democrat is not competing there, then they are going to lose. … We are getting killed in western Kansas and it’s because we’re not connecting with any of them.”