Former state representative Josh Svaty announced his bid for the Kansas governor’s seat in May this year, and triggered the first contested Democratic gubernatorial primary in Kansas in two decades.

Svaty stopped by the McPherson Sentinel to talk about the race last week on his 105-county tour.

“This is representative of the state taking a lot of attention on the gubernatorial race,” Svaty said. “Most Kansans would say that the state is not in a good place and they see the 2018 election as a referendum on where we’re going to take the state. It’s already garnering a lot of attention and we’re a year out from the primary.”

The Democratic party hasn’t held a contested primary for governor since 1998, when Tom Sawyer entered the race to prevent Fred Phelps, the leader of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, from securing the nomination.

Svaty, from Ellsworth, will face former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer in the primaries next year, as well as physician Arden Andersen and high school student Jack Bergeson.

On the Republican side, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Wichita businessman Wink Hartman, former state Sen. Jim Barnett, Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, businessman Patrick Kucera and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer have announced their bids for governor.

Svaty thinks the focus of the race should remain on the state’s finances, schools and quality-of-life issues, which in turn could increase numbers of business and skilled workers moving into the state.

“Economic development is a mix of appropriated incentives at the state and local level, but also having the right appearance to people. Millennials with a cool new business are not going to move to a place that they feel is backward or unstable,” Svaty said. “Kansas has historically been perceived as a very stable place — well governed by reasonable people with a coalition of democrats and republicans — and we’ve lost that in the last several years.”

Svaty was raised on a farm near Ellsworth, attended Sterling College and was elected to the Kansas House when he was 22, where he served from 2003 to 2009. Then, he was state secretary of agriculture under Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson.

Svaty was also a senior adviser in the Environmental Protection Agency and was the vice president of the Land Institute, an agricultural nonprofit.

Since 2015, Svaty has focused efforts on his family-run Free State Farms, a diversified crop and livestock operation in Ellsworth County.

“I left public service in 2013 and I want to get back in because I got upset. It was clear the state was still having trouble righting itself,” Svaty said. “My wife, Kimberly, and I were talking about how we have the ability to do this and it would be hard for us to look at our children and tell them that we had an opportunity to make the state better and we took a pass on it. The state needs help from its younger generation, not only in what we can do within the state, but also the external perception of the state of Kansas.”

Svaty agrees with recent tax legislation passed in the state and hopes changes over the next several years will continue to improve the economy.

“It’s a long journey ahead. A lot of Kansans see the tax increase as the first step in the right direction, but its only the first step,” Svaty said. “It will be a long time before any governor will get to do those ribbon cutting ceremonies that suggest that new exciting things are moving forward. It takes time to get spending appropriately again so it’ll be a number of years to get things going.”

Because of Kansas’ agriculture-heavy economy, Svaty hopes the state’s tax package could function alongside poor crop markets.

“The three-legged stool of property, sales and income taxes, is balanced and you need that balance when your natural resource economy is going through this,” Svaty said. “It’s never easy to pass a tax passage and the legislature made a tremendous lift. I imagine the legislature will revisit it in the near future, but it would be easier to revisit if they had a governor who could help in that process.”

Contact Cheyenne Derksen Schroeder by email at or on Twitter at @MacSentinel.