By John Celock
A former Obama Administration official and Kansas agriculture secretary is seeking to become the nation’s youngest governor.
Former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty kicked off his long expected bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination Tuesday in Ellsworth County. Svaty, a former state legislator, enters a growing Democratic gubernatorial field and faces instant opposition from progressives, who point to his pro-life record. Svaty focused his announcement on economic and educational issues, not abortion. Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is term limited.
“We the people of Kansas are our government,” Svaty said in a video of his formal announcement that was on YouTube. “If we want to fix it we must do it ourselves.”
Svaty pointed to several traditional Democratic lines in Kansas in attacking Brownback’s 2012 tax cuts, which are under fire in the state Legislature. Svaty said that he wanted to address education, highways, hospitals and mental health as governor. All of the issues have been at the top of the agenda in this year’s legislative session.
Svaty, 37, served four terms in the state House of Representatives until 2009 appointment by then Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) to serve as state agriculture secretary. Svaty’s tenure in the post lasted until Parkinson left the governor’s mansion in early 2011. Svaty then served in the Obama Administration as a senior advisor at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s regional office. His service in Obama’s EPA could be viewed negatively by rural voters who have long opposed Obama’s water policy.
Svaty’s entry in to the Democratic contest was greeted by instant opposition from Planned Parenthood, citing his opposition to abortion while a state lawmaker.
“PPGPV promises to stop any anti-choice extremists, like Svaty, from gaining even the slightest political foothold in Kansas,” Planned Parenthood of the Great Plans President Laura McQuade said in a statement.
Svaty has long been opposed by progressive activists in the state, including when he flirted with entering the 2014 gubernatorial contest. The opposition to Svaty’s views on abortion come as Democrats nationally are facing pressure from progressive groups to only side with pro-choice candidates. Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez faced pushback earlier this year for his backing of pro-life Democrat Heath Mello for mayor of Omaha.
Svaty is seeking to become the nation’s youngest governor, joining several other thirty-something Democrats who have announced bids for governorships around the country. State Sen. Nate Boulton, 36, is running in Iowa, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, 37, is running in Florida, Middletown Mayor Dan Drew, 37, if running in Connecticut and state House Minority Leader Scott Inman, 38, is running in Oklahoma.
On the Republican side, Maine Senate Majority Leader Garrett Mason is considering entering his state’s gubernatorial field.
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R), 42, is currently the nation’s youngest governor. Sununu faces a reelection fight next year. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles (R), 33, is the nation’s youngest statewide elected official while Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner (R), 29, is the nation’s youngest statewide official. LaTurner who was appointed to the treasurer’s office last month by Brownback has announced that he will see a full term in the job next year.
Svaty follows former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer into the Democratic gubernatorial contest, setting up the first contested Democratic primary for Kansas governor since 1998. State House Minority Leader Jim Ward (D-Wichita) is considering entering the Democratic field.
On the Republican side, former state Rep. Ed O’Malley and businessman Wink Hartman have both declared their candidacies for the GOP nomination. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder are considered potential GOP candidates. With reports circulating that Brownback may step down early to take a Trump Administration job, Colyer could seek the governorship as the incumbent.