Mr. Speaker, Madam President, colleagues, honored leaders of our Tribal nations, friends, my fellow Kansans, it is an honor to stand before you today as Governor. Please let me begin by formally introducing the new First Lady, and most importantly, the love of my life, Ruth Colyer.
Last Wednesday, we began our first day at 5:30 am and visited our family farm, went to mass, visited a school for kids with special needs, then came to the Capitol for the formal inauguration and receptions. We finally pulled up to our garage at home after 10 pm, Ruth looked at me with those big beautiful brown eyes and said, “Be sure to bring the trashcan in, Governor.”
With Ruth and our daughters Dominique and Serena by my side I shared with you my vision for a Kansas that called each of us to the service of others. As someone who sat in these desks for four years as a Representative and a Senator, –actually right up there, two seats in–I know that service is important to each of you. You leave your family for months at a time. You work nights and you work weekends. You miss basketball games and grandkids’ birthdays to be here working for your constituents. And, let’s be honest, I know you don’t do it for the money. On our very best days, of which there are many, it is about serving Kansans and not about ourselves. Thank you for your service.
We don’t talk a lot about service in Kansas. But service is central to the Kansas character. Serving our neighbors is what connects us as human beings. And that connection can be passed on from generation to generation, just as it was for Seaman High School Senior, Natalie Ford. As a junior last year, Natalie was the recipient of my Lt. Governor’s Service Award for the work she did at iCare Foodbank in Southeast Topeka. Natalie wanted to make a difference in the lives of real people. Rather than just talking about it, or posting about it on Facebook, Natalie decided to act.
At an early age, she started spending her mornings during her summer vacation volunteering at iCare, helping less fortunate Kansans make healthy food selections and bring food home to their families. She would take the recipients through the store and then load their groceries into the car. But what makes an eighth grader voluntarily get out of bed early in the summertime to do that? For Natalie, it was the example of her grandmother, Scarlett Ford, whom Natalie describes as a mentor and example of someone who gives back to those around her.
Service passed down from generation to generation is a legacy we can give our children. Natalie and her Grandma Scarlett are both here in the audience today. Let’s have them stand and be recognized.
Now as I told you before, I keep a surgeon’s schedule, not a politician’s. It has been a busy but productive few days. On my first full day as governor I began meeting with the Republican and Democratic leadership. Some hadn’t been in the Governor’s office in years – similar to my own experience as a legislator. We spoke about working together, solving problems and changing the tone. Thank you, and I hope to meet with each of you in the coming weeks and months.
On day two as governor, I visited great communities across Kansas like El Dorado, Pittsburg and Independence. Many Kansans shared with me their willingness to work for a new day in Kansas. I was truly humbled. I announced major staff changes that I have been quietly implementing. I have a new policy team, communications team, and management team. There are 6 major changes to the cabinet. We will have a new Secretary of KDHE. The Secretary of the Department for Children and Families, the Chief of Information Technology, the Secretary of Commerce, the Chief Budget Officer, and the Lt. Governor will all be new. We will manage Kansas more like a business. I am restructuring the executive office to include a Chief Operating Officer to manage and respond more effectively and professionally–more like a major corporation.
On Saturday, Kansans from Salina to Garden City to Emporia shared their ideas. And the best advice came from Carolyn in Salina who said, “There’s a reason your car has a small rear-view mirror and a big windshield. Let’s go forward. Remember that.”
There are some who say Kansas is in an unwinnable situation. Yes, it is tough, but these are the times we relish. When I worked for President Reagan, even at the darkest hours of the Soviet Union and deep stagflation, he kept a plaque on his desk that read “It CAN be done.” These are the times that set history for the next century. I believe our best days are ahead of us.
Let’s be very clear – we have some significant challenges to overcome. As a surgeon, I’m going to deal with problems head on, without rancor and always with compassion. But there are some things that need to change, right here, right now. I like to think of those in three big categories: Reform, Jobs, and Education.
Let’s begin with Reform.
First of all, I expect a safe and professional workplace – free from sexual harassment. To anyone here that has experienced these evils, I want you to know that you’ve been heard. You have value and you have my respect. I want to thank the Women’s Foundation, legislative leaders, and my fellow Kansans who insist we have a professional workplace. My commitment to you is that harassment in any form, at any time, in any place, will not be tolerated in my Administration.
Monday, I signed my first Executive Order which first requires all Cabinet Agencies to update their sexual harassment prevention policies. Every employee, every intern, every contractor shall receive the material.
Second, it requires every state employee, every manager, even every intern to undergo sexual harassment prevention training. This will happen annually.
Third, allegations of sexual harassment will be investigated promptly and appropriate disciplinary action shall be taken swiftly.
I also want to thank Senate President Susan Wagle for her leadership on establishing a culture of respect and responsibility in THIS building, the People’s House. Kansas government must be more transparent. The Kansas Constitution says, “All political power is inherent in the people…”. In my travels around the state, I’ve talked to many Kansans, who express their desire for more sunlight on government dealings.
I applaud the actions taken by Speaker Ryckman, Majority Leader Hineman, and others to make the legislative process more transparent. Already, we’ve seen moves to end anonymous bills and to broadcast live and archive all committee proceedings. I also support Senator Wagle’s proposal to require lobbyist registration for those attempting to influence executive officials. I believe transparency required of the Legislature, should also be required for the Executive Branch.
A group of legislators, led by Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, have put forth several transparency proposals as well. Many of you are working hard on this issue, and your efforts deserve recognition and support. Thank you. Now it’s time for the executive branch to do its part.
Tomorrow, I will sign four executive orders, that take important steps to make Kansas government more transparent:
1. First, we will no longer charge Kansans for open records requests of less than 100 pages.
2. Second, we will institute policies to ensure the Administration relies on official email accounts to conduct state business.
3. Third, I will implement performance metrics for Cabinet Agencies so Kansans can see how we perform.
4. Fourth, we are launching a website to serve as a one-stop-shop for Cabinet Agencies to post open meetings, locations and materials.
Transparency is key to better accountability and accountability is the key to real results. Let’s make this happen.
Kansas was founded on the idea that all people have value. EVERYONE has a God-given right to life and liberty. As a doctor, I’ve seen newborn babies, who no one gave a chance, thrive. I’ve seen mothers frightened by a scary ultrasound, only to rejoice at their child’s wedding 20 years later. When Kansas first entered the Union, two of our first laws emphasized basic human dignity. As a free state, Kansas prohibited slavery. The same Founders–whose names appear on these walls–passed laws prohibiting abortion. That same constitution that prohibited slavery did NOT mention a RIGHT to an abortion. Yet, a Kansas Court issued a ruling which argues the framers of the Kansas constitution imagined abortion as a separate constitutional right.
This is violence against basic facts. This cannot stand. We are a pro-life state. On the issue of life, the stakes are SO high, the issue is SO foundational, the people of Kansas MUST have the final say.
Next, let’s talk about Jobs. Job growth and enhancing the quality of life for all Kansans must be our highest priority.
So, here’s my vision for Kansas: Over the next few years, I want us to work together to steadily and professionally build Kansas to be a vibrant, growing state. In short, I want our children to see their best future right here in Kansas. I want my adventurous daughters to see their dreams—serving others–come true right here in Kansas. There’s some good news to report here. According to the most recent data, the Kansas unemployment rate is 3.4%. That’s one of the lowest in the country, and the lowest our state has seen in more than seventeen years!
But I also know, if you travel around our state, listening to people and hearing their stories, it’s impossible to miss the real-world struggles still faced by so many Kansas families. A rising tide lifts all boats, but too many of our people seem to be stranded on dry land. An expanding economy with opportunities for higher income and rising standards of living only works if our citizens have the right tools to make the most of their own lives.
Did you know there are more than 48,000 unfilled jobs in our state today? Many of those have high wages and great opportunities for advancement. All over the state, especially in small towns, employers tell me they would hire more workers if they could find them. Truly, we have jobs looking for people. More and better jobs for Kansans is important to me personally.
On my second full day as Governor I was visiting Pittsburg, and as we all know Southeast Kansas continues to struggle. Without prior warning, I stopped in to visit the KANSASWORKS office which helps people looking for work. John Pettus and his team of professionals provide personalized job search assistance. They are truly dedicated to helping Kansans find good jobs.
To address this issue my Administration will be launching a program called the My (Re) Employment Plan. My (Re)Employment Plan,” will provide, free of charge, a skills assessment, resume, interview and networking assistance, and labor market information highlighting current in-demand jobs. This program is designed to help our friends and neighbors get back to earning paychecks and working good jobs.
Other Kansans have the talent and drive but not the immediate technical skills to find a good paying job. The budget proposal includes significant investments in career and technical education. It will give Kansas high school students the opportunity to learn technical skills before they’ve even received their high school diplomas. Older students can also learn skills needed to compete for in-demand jobs. It will increase the apprentice program, and support the jobs of the future. These modest, but effective, investments will pay long-term dividends, particularly in rural areas.
Now, here’s a troubling fact we all must face—-Several other states are trying to steal our title of Air Capital of the World. Today we say to them with one voice, “NOT ON OUR WATCH.”
I’ve been working with our state’s largest private employer, Spirit Aerosystems, and in December they announced plans to invest more than $1 Billion dollars and hire more than 1000 Kansans. That’s a $1 million-dollar investment for EVERY job. These are the great-paying high-tech jobs that will stay with us for generations. In talking with Spirit and other aviation leaders, we’ve come to learn the real challenge is filling these positions with qualified workers. These are great jobs. They will provide a great life and opportunities for many families.
The budget also helps Wichita maintain its title of Air Capital of the World, with its investments in the National Institute for Aviation Research and the National Center for Aviation Training. I support these investments and hope you’ll join me in advocating for them as you work through the budget process.
Speaking of investments, when I was sitting in these seats 10 years ago, I voted to support the T-WORKS program. While that transportation plan was not fully accomplished, we can do better. We must end the highway funding sweeps and build an effective plan that promotes economic development and strengthens our transportation network.
Let’s talk about another issue that is washing across America. Many businesses say they have problems finding workers who can pass a drug test. This is a big reason why so many Kansans aren’t benefitting from a growing economy. This scourge does not respect ethnicity, age, rich or poor, parent or child or county. Hundreds of our neighbors have died. Believe it or not, the average life expectancy in the United States decreased the last two years, and many experts cite the opioid and meth epidemics as a primary cause. I’ve seen this first hand among my own patients.
This legislature has taken some important first steps but we need a comprehensive approach. The good news is, we have one of the top national experts leading our efforts. You know him well: Dr. Greg Lakin–physician, lawyer, addiction specialist, former legislator—will head a task force to work with you to implement short and long-term solutions. And he’s not the only legislator we’ve turned to for their expertise.I am also tasking our new Chief Budget Officer, Larry Campbell to fully engage a zero-based, performance budgeting process.
New technologies offer new affordable solutions. Together we can make long-term improvements to the budget. Please join me in thanking Dr. Lakin and Larry Campbell for their service in the legislature and their continued contributions to Kansas in their new roles.
We take seriously our responsibility to care for Kansas children in crisis. The Legislature, led by Health Chair Schmidt and others, has been working energetically along with Secretary Meier-Hummel and other key stakeholders, to reform this system. I want to take a moment to personally thank each of you who have been so willing to work on this important issue.
One need only pick up a newspaper to see examples of the extreme evil that exists in this world. Just weeks ago, we read of parents in California that held their children captive for years, starving and chaining them to their beds. In Kansas, we’ve had our own tragedies, too terrible to recount here.
Unfortunately, government will never be capable of preventing all these evils. But, we can and we must do better. Secretary Meier-Hummel and I stood together to announce several important proposals to give children and families around the state the help they need. The Secretary is working with outside experts on a top-to-bottom review of our state’s child welfare system.
We need funding to achieve the following goals:
· hire additional child welfare field staff,
· establish emergency placement options so there are no more kids sleeping in offices,
· hire additional investigative staff to track down missing foster children,
· and invest in new community based family preservation and family strengthening programs.
I know for a fact that each and every person in this room cares deeply about the plight of abused children in our state. Please join me as we fight for the most vulnerable children in our state.
Another area we must address is supporting those in our communities with mental illness. In the last three weeks, I have visited four Community Mental Health Centers. We are in the process of rebuilding that system. The Legislative Mental Health Task Force provides some excellent recommendations to build the best mental health system in the country. I suggest to you, one model for our work on mental health reform is the RSI facility in Wyandotte County. This collaboration was led by my friends, Majority Leader Jim Denning and Representative Kathy Wolfe Moore. Thank you for your important work.
Bringing together local law enforcement, mental health centers, and health providers, we’ve created a place that provides superior service for those with mental illness. It saves state and local resources for others who truly need it. My administration will begin work on several of these suggestions immediately. We stand ready to work with you to ensure those in our communities with mental illness receive top-notch care with the dignity and the respect they deserve.
As a surgeon and governor, I insist on regularly evaluating progress and continuous improvement. Which brings us to the topic of KanCare. I welcome and appreciate the legislative involvement in the future of the program. This is critical. Chairman Hawkins and others have been particularly helpful as we look to improve the program. So, here are my priorities for KanCare moving forward:
· Improve outcomes for those we serve.
· Bend the cost curve down.
· Fix the eligibility system.
· We must draw down additional Medicaid funding to treat substance abuse and mental illness.
· Support additional work opportunities for able bodied adults which encourage better health outcomes
Our new Secretary Jeff Andersen at KDHE, along with our new Medicaid Director and Chief Medical Officer bring great experience and expertise to this team. These positions will be critical to tackling the Medicaid eligibility backlog issue and resolving problems for the benefit of clients and providers alike. I want to work with you to make sure this crucial program continues to improve for the betterment of the more than 400,000 Kansans it serves.
Finally, and perhaps the most pressing question in many of your minds, where will we go on education? And before we get to the elephant in the room, let me first thank you to the legislature for the remarkable investments you have made in early childhood education. Early childhood education works.
On my first day as governor, I had the opportunity to visit a public school in my hometown of Hays. I want you to know that your Governor is a supporter of public education. In Kansas, we invest in our schools, not because a court tells us to, but because we want to invest in our children and our future. We invest in teachers because they invest in our kids. We support things like the Kansans Can Redesign program because we are willing to do hard things for the youth of this state.
And now I want you to think about something. Governor Bob Docking, Governor Bob Bennett, Governor John Carlin, Governor Mike Hayden, Governor Joan Finney, Governor Bill Graves, Governor Kathleen Sebelius, Governor Mark Parkinson, Governor Sam Brownback, and Governor Jeff Colyer. The last ten Governors of Kansas. Five Democrats and Five Republicans. Fifty years and counting. That’s longer than the Cold War. All ten governors have had the specter of education lawsuits overshadowing education. This must end now.
To some in politics, leadership is about being a bully or being the loudest, shrillest voice in the room. To others it’s about staking out a position and never compromising. To me, leadership is about setting a vision and bringing people together to achieve common goals. And, as a former legislator, I know that you don’t appreciate being told what to do by a governor, or anyone else for that matter. And I think the reaction to a recent State of the State address is plenty evidence of that.
What I learned from President Reagan is that we develop principles that allow us to resolve our issues. As the sign on his desk and now mine says, “It can be done.” With that in mind, I will offer a framework that I hope you can see fit to support:
1. We must keep our schools open.
2. We need a definitive solution that ends the school finance lawsuits FOR GOOD.
3. Increased investments in K-12 Education must come through a phased in approach that doesn’t increase the tax burden on Kansas families and ensures schools can effectively allocate any new funds they receive.
4. Lastly, and most importantly, we must insist on accountability and improved outcomes.
I will sign school finance legislation that meets these objectives. This will not be easy, but public servants and leaders are not called to make the easy choices. We’re here to do the right thing, and the right thing is never easy.
As I close today, I want you to know that I intend to be the most approachable Governor in Kansas history. Please know that I see you as a partner and am excited to listen to your ideas about moving our state forward. I began this speech by thanking you for your service to the state and your constituents.
And I would like to end this speech with the same challenge that closed my inaugural address: I challenge you to give yourself to your fellow man. I challenge you to put our long-term interests ahead of short term political gain. I challenge all of us to come together, to work together. To show the world that Kansas is the true heart of America.
Thank you. May God bless you. And may God continue to bless the Great State of Kansas.