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Barnett’s listening tour stops in Parsons


Dr. James Barnett, a Republican candidate for Kansas governor in 2018, visited Parsons Senior Center Friday morning to discuss health care.

Barnett practices internal medicine in Topeka and is a former state legislator, having served 10 years in the Kansas Senate. He ran for Kansas governor in 2006, winning the Republican nomination to face Democratic incumbent Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Sebelius won.

Rep. Richard Proehl, a Parsons Republican, introduced Dr. Barnett at the center, 1800 Belmont.

He said his purpose on Friday morning was to tell people about his candidacy and to discuss hospitals and access to health care.

Barnett said he grew hopeful last year about the future of Kansas government. He thought Kansans were ready to elect a governor who would work with others to solve problems in the state: balance tax structure, invest in and grow the state and properly fund education.

“I also saw a Legislature that clearly saw the importance of infrastructure and not taking money from KDOT like we had,” Barnett said.

Barnett supports Medicaid expansion, something that Gov. Sam Brownback refused to do.

Citizens have been caught at a couple of intersections in their lives, he said. One is the rising cost of health care. The other is the stagnant growth of wages. So, people wait to see the doctor until they need to go to the emergency room. Then it’s too late from a health care standpoint and from a cost standpoint.

“If we want to lift up our state and head in a different direction, we need to have health care access available to all of our citizens,” Barnett said.

As governor, if elected, Barnett said he would support communities and hospitals and work to improve access to health care.

Brian Williams, CEO of Labette Health, attended the event.

Williams said Americans have seen a wage cut since 1999 when health care costs increased and wages did not. Deductibles have increased from $500 to $2,000. As a result, hospitals became banks by allowing customers to make payments on large medical bills. Labette had to adjust its collection process because Williams was concerned that aggressive collections were compounding the loss of patients to facilities in other counties.

He asked Barnett where the money would come from to expand Medicaid and do the things that needed to be done to increase access to health care. Williams noted that in Missouri the income tax rate is 6 percent and he was pleased to move to Kansas where the rate was only 4 percent. Perhaps Kansas should raise the income tax rate again to help get the needed money to improve government services, especially those related to health care.

Barnett said politicians are pulling the wool over the eyes of voters when they claim they will solve government’s ills by cutting taxes and services. 

“So we’re going to have to pay and it’s going to take sacrifices,” Barnett said.

“The next governor of Kansas, if they do it right, may be a one-term governor,” he said because of so many difficult choices on the horizon. “And our hole is so deep. What the Brownback-Colyer administration has done is dig the hole so deep it’s going to take a decade, at least, to get out of it,” Barnett said.

Kansas will get more money from LLCs that enjoyed tax exemptions under Brownback and from adjustments in income taxes approved by lawmakers this last session.

But the economy also needs to grow, Barnett said. Businessmen want workforce development, education for their families, health care for their families, improved infrastructure. Quality of life issues are important in Kansas and the next governor needs to work toward this, Barnett said.

He suggested that government should partner with business and that regional approaches to economic development would work better because each region of the state has different things to offer.

Barnett said the theme of his campaign is One Kansas and he thinks working together is the only way to solve problems.

A retired teacher asked about the future of KPERS, the public employee retirement system, and properly funding the highway program. The Legislature and Gov. Brownback have removed money from the Kansas Department of Transportation to fund budget shortfalls and Brownback has delayed payments on a program to right KPERS to fill in funding gaps in state programs as well.

Barnett said Proehl told him that the roads in the state will deteriorate rapidly for lack of maintenance programs.

“In my opinion, we went down to our knees in the last administration. If we elect the wrong governor, I think we’ll be face down on the cement,” Barnett said.

One question related to legalizing marijuana in Kansas so the state can reap the $508 million benefit that Colorado has seen in tax revenue in 3.5 years.

Barnett said his approach to legalizing marijuana is science based, not based on the potential income from the practice.

He supports growing hemp in Kansas, however. Hemp can be used in various products. Agriculture in Kansas could stand diversification in crops.

Maegen Pegues, executive director of Parsons Presbyterian Manor, asked about the process seniors go through to apply for Medicaid. The process has lengthened for the seniors and this is the opposite of access to needed health care. Seniors have worked hard their entire lives and should have health care. She thinks the state needs to do a better job of getting the application process under control and finding resources to hire people to take seniors through the application process.

Barnett said having a functional government would help. He said he would work with Democrats and Republicans to solve problems.

He was critical of Brownback for promoting a “my way or the highway” mentality in government. Governors in the past were more willing to work with both sides to resolve problems.

Barnett is one of five Republican candidates for governor, so far. He joins Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, oil magnate Wink Hartman and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer. Democrats so far are Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Josh Svaty, a former state secretary of agriculture.

Barnett said he could retire, but he hopes to offer leadership to the state. He’s OK with losing, he said.

“We just want to be on the right side of issues if we lose,” Barnett said.

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