A former Kansas legislator who also served as the state agriculture secretary and as a senior official in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is running for governor.
Joshua Svaty, 37, launched his bid for the Democratic nomination Tuesday at the Ellsworth Co-op, just a few miles from the farm where he grew up.
In an interview prior to his announcement, Svaty said he was running to “undo the damage” from Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic policies.
He said Kansas voters showed their desire for a change last fall by replacing many of Brownback’s conservative allies in the Legislature with more moderate Republicans and Democrats. But he said Brownback’s February veto of a bill that would have rolled back many of the income tax cuts he pushed through the Legislature in 2012 signaled the need for new leadership.
“Leadership at the top matters and the governor matters,” Svaty said, calling Brownback’s veto of the tax bill a “demonstration of why we need wholesale change in the state.”
Svaty was 22 when first elected in 2002 to the Kansas House. He was 29 when former Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson plucked him from the Legislature and named him head of the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
He worked briefly at the EPA as a senior adviser before becoming vice president of The Land Institute, a nonprofit agriculture research organization based in Salina.
Asked if rural voters would consider his tenure at the EPA as a drawback, Svaty signaled his intention to bill it as a positive.
“My service there was building relationships with the ag community around the four-state region of Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri,” he said. “Our federal agencies belong to the people, and either you can complain from a distance or you can get inside, figure out how they work and find out how to make them better.”
Svaty appears to have the backing of several prominent Democrats in his race for the nomination against former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer. House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, also is considering a run for governor.
On the Republican side, former state Rep. Ed O’Malley, now president and CEO of the Wichita-based Kansas Leadership Center, and Wichita oil executive Wink Hartman each have formed campaign committees. Several other high-profile Republicans also are considering a bid to succeed Brownback as the party’s standard-bearer, including Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, 3rd District Congressman Kevin Yoder and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Svaty and his wife, Kimberly, are expecting their fourth child in the fall. The family splits time between a home in Topeka and a farm in Ellsworth County.
Jim McLean is managing director of KMUW's Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics in Kansas. Follow him on Twitter @jmcleanks.