Also in attendance were Rep. Bob Brookens and state Senate candidate Jeff Longbine. Longbine fielded questions and answers after Brownback.
Kansas’s economic growth and public education dominated the discussions. Both are key parts of Brownback’s campaign platform.
“Eighty percent of the counties are losing population in Kansas, some of them dramatically so,” he said. “The key is you’ve got to have jobs. People have to be able to have jobs.”
Brownback said a growth-based economy would create jobs. He said the first step to building that is to lower taxes and dissolve excess regulations that deter small businesses.
To get of rid of the regulations, Brownback is proposing a new position in state government, “Office of the Repealer.”
“Their job is to look for statutes and regulations to repeal,” Brownback said. “Regulation is the bane of small business, and small business is what creates jobs.”
Another way to stimulate economic growth in central Kansas is aiding the aviation industry, Brownback said. Even though he has seen expansion of aviation contracts to the region, he said the status of the industry is improving too slowly.
According to Brownback, the biggest boost to the local economy would be to acquire a contract to build Air Force refueling tankers. According to the Wichita Eagle, Boeing said the contract would bring 7,500 jobs and $388 million a year to the state.
“We need to get the tanker contract here, and not (let it) go to Europe,” Brownback said. “I’ve been in this fight for a decade. We’re going to get it done. It’s going to happen yet this year.”
The No. 1 topic of discussion during the question-and-answer session was public education. Brownback said the best way to solve Kansas’s education problems is to sit down with those involved in the education system and formulate a good plan.
“If I laid out a plan today, people would say, ‘Wait a minute, that doesn’t fit me,’” he said. “I think you need to get a process involved with people with stakes in the various parts of the state.”
Brownback said he was not in favor of further consolidation of small Kansas schools.
“I’m not for forced consolidation by the state,” said Brownback, saying that it kills towns. “You don’t need to do it.”
To save the schools money, Brownback suggested teacher sharing and online courses for students.
“We need to be able to pipe in some of the education,” he said. “If you need a calculus teacher and you can’t afford to get one, pipe it in from someplace else. A lot of distance learning takes place now.”
The senator also spoke against health care reform and recent Washington legislation he said he believes is hindering the nation’s economic recovery.
“I think a lot of it is a level of uncertainty that’s being introduced with Obamacare, financial regulation and a heavy level of regulation and an uncertainty on tax rates particularly going into next year,” he said.
“Now, with the set of taxes that are set to go up if no action is taken by the Congress, we would have a lot of capital sitting on the sideline that should be engaged now.”
Earlier in the day, Brownback stopped in Council Grove, where he heard plans for a Flint Hills initiative designed to bring tourism to the region. After Council Grove he visited Cottonwood Falls.
“Hiking, biking trails, conservation easements and really a promotional effort behind the Flint Hills,” Brownback said about the initiative proposed in Council Grove. “There’s been some good efforts to build this up, but I would like to see us expand that and move it forward.”
Brownback said the initiative calls for a “destination hotel that fits into the topography and nature of the area,” and a series of horse trails that a former Kansas State professor wants to make “the Sturgis of horseback riding.”