Topeka Republican Jim Barnett spoke with the Sentinel this week as part of his tour through McPherson County. He explored the 2018 gubernatorial race for over a year before announcing his candidacy this June.

“The next governor is going to have to rebuild a functioning state government,” Barnett said. “I think it will take a decade for Kansas get out of the mess we're in. The next governor will have to start turning the ship.”

The Gov. Sam Brownback-Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer tax experiment “took us to our knees,” Barnett said. “The greatest challenge facing Kansas is our budget deficit and weak economic growth.”

Barnett conducted a tour this summer focused on livestock and the agricultural industry. A tour devoted to health care brought him to this area, with a stop at Hutchinson Regional Medical Center and McPherson Hospital.

Barnett is an internal medicine physician and former state senator who won in a seven-candidate Republican field in 2006 to become the nominee to challenge Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. She won a second term with nearly 58 percent of the vote.

“It certainly is a different landscape now and a different time in our state,” Barnett said. “The people of Kansas are ready to elect a governor that is a problem-solver, who is pragmatic and willing to work with all sides to solve problems.”

In 2010, Barnett came in second in a six-candidate Republican primary for the 1st Congressional District seat. Tim Huelskamp won the primary and served in Congress for six years.

Barnett favors expansion of Medicaid. He began his health care tour in southeast Kansas, calling attention to the closing of the hospital in Independence.

“Losing your hospital is like losing your school in terms of what your community future will look like. I support it because I want our hospitals open,” Barnett said.

Barnett explained that by not expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, the state has lost access to millions in revenue.

“We have families working two or three jobs trying to make ends meet and they still can't afford healthcare,” Barnett said. “Without it, they avoid necessary care and wait until the late stages of their illness and then go to the emergency room where it's very expensive. That leads to bankruptcy for many families. I want Kansans to have access to healthcare and I want our hospitals to stay open.”

Concerning taxes, Barnett said that the governor needs to work with the Legislature in order to correct budget woes.

“The Kansas Legislature cast some tough votes to override the governor’s veto and created a new economic foundation for Kansas,” Barnett said. “That is the only way we're going to get out of the large budget hole we're in.”

In June, the Senate voted 27-13 and the House 88-31 to successfully override Brownback’s veto of an income-tax hike that will generate over $1.2 billion in revenue for the two-year budget cycle.

“They did the right thing,” Barnett said of those voting for the hike. “No one wants to pay more taxes, but the legislature did the right thing and they voted for what was needed for Kansas, not for their political careers. They're going to get clobbered in the next election.”

Barnett, 63, served on the Emporia school board and represented the Emporia area when he served in the state Senate. Divorced with grown children, he will marry Rosie Hansen in September on a Flint Hills ranch west of Emporia. Hansen grew up 17 miles from Barnett and has become chief operating officer at U.S. embassies around the world.

Barnett has trimmed time at his medical practice but will continue to devote some time to it during the campaign. The campaign has staff, but they also have other responsibilities: Eight of the nine staffers are college students and the ninth member is a high school senior.

As of Friday, no one had filed to run for governor. Candidates will file as a ticket with a lieutenant governor running mate, and the filing deadline is not until June 1, 2018.

In 2006, Barnett’s lieutenant governor running mate was Susan Wagle, now Kansas Senate president.

“I’ve already had seven or eight good solid offers to be a running mate,” Barnett said. “I feel really positive about that.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at cderksen@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her on Twitter at @MacSentinel