Jim Barnett, a physician and Republican member of the Kansas Senate from Emporia, has joined the field seeking the nomination for the U.S. Congress from the First District of. Barnett has represented District 17, which includes most of Marion County. He ran for governor in 2006 against Kathleen Sebelius. On the day he announced his intention to run for U.S. Congress, he stopped in at Hillsboro as a side stop on a four-day, 10-city announcement tour. He was more than willing to respond to some questions from the Free Press editor.
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I SUPPOSE THE BASIC QUESTION IS WHY RUN FOR THIS SEAT AT THIS TIME?
Right now Washington is a mess. We?re spending too much, taxing too much, borrowing too much. It is an extreme concern to me what we are doing to our children and grandchildren by passing on exorbitant debt. Just on the debt issue alone, our national debt is $12 trillion. Our gross domestic product per year $18 trillion — so two-thirds of our GDP is now debt. I think we?re at a critical stage. Twenty-five percent of the debt is owned by foreign nations, 44 percent by foreigners. We have come to a point in time where we need, I believe, conservative Kansas values of fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility. We have to be able to control our spending, balance the budget and quit deficit spending, including earmarks financed by borrowed money.
The amount of money involved in the stimulus package is $800 billion, but you have to add $300 billion to that for debt service, so it?s $1.1 trillion; $800 billion is equal to the total amount of money in circulation in the U.S. today. It is just unbelievable. So the economic issues are strong in what has brought me to this race.
We see this continuous brain drain with the best and brightest leaving Kansas, including the First Congressional District. When that happens we have fewer businesses on Main Street, fewer children in our schools, teachers, doctors nurses and other professionals. To turn that around we need to get our budget in order so we can cut taxes and make Kansas and America the best place to do business. I think America should be the best place to do business. Seven out of 10 jobs come from small businesses. On average it takes 37 hours to complete a 1040 (tax form). Rather than creating opportunities, government is creating paperwork. We have to turn that around. I believe we can do that. I believe it will take leadership that can solve problems and work with others to get the job done.
WITH DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE WHITE HOUSE AND BOTH HOUSES OF CONGRESS, HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE AS A FIRST-TERM REPUBLICAN?
We face challenging times as a nation. I believe we have a liberal Congress and a liberal president. We can?t change this over night, but we must elect leaders with those conservative values, which is critical to turning the nation in the right direction. I really don?t care if they?re Republican or Democrats, as long as we recognize that we can?t continue down this path of irresponsibility. So I am committed to this race to make a difference, committed for our children and great-grandchildren as well.
We have a lot of issues at stake. Education is one of them. I?ve been asked, ?How ar you going to cut spending and control what?s going on?? The No. 1 role of government is to protect our nation — defense, internal and external threats. Too many people have become dependent on asking the government to take care of them. We need to turn that around.
One thing we need to do in education is bring it back to local and state control. The Department of Education at the federal level could be done away with. No Child Left Behind is an example.
United Nations — we?re throwing money down a black hole. Foreign aid, where other dictators and government take that money and waste it, or buy weapons with medicines. That needs to change.
Certainly earmarks — I will not take earmarks, and there has to be reform.
Energy policy is huge. Kansas should be a leader in energy production. We should produce those fuel that power the economy of tomorrow. Reno County is an example of a county that has brought production of wind turbines. It?s not just wind, it?s other sources, too. But I really believe it?s part of our future and how we can turn this state around.
TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN WASHINGTON, YOU HAVE TO WIN THIS ELECTION IN THE FIRST DISTRICT. WHAT DO YOU BRING TO THIS RACE?
Two things. First of all, my rural background — I?m a fourth-generation farm kid. I grew up with asthma and hayfever and was very upset that I couldn?t be a farmer. My roots will always be on the farm and I feel very comfortable and connected to the people of rural and western Kansas.
The other big issue is health care. There are 75 hospitals in the First Congressional District. There are more hospitals in the First Congressional District than any other district in the nation. Understanding rural health care is going to be critical. The debate has shifted from state to federal on health care. Lord knows we need somebody who understands health care to be a voice of reason in Washington.
WHEN DID YOU GET THE DESIRE TO RUN FOR HIGHER OFFICE? WAS IT WHEN YOU RAN FOR GOVERNOR, OR WHEN JERRY MORAN DECIDED TO RUN FOR THE U.S. SENATE?
Both. When I ran for governor, I proposed the biggest tax cut in the history of our state, with a balanced budget and sustained school funding. It?s unfortunate that we couldn?t succeed with that because we?d be in much better shape right ow — but that?s water under the bridge.
We?ve always asked our kids to think of the day when they could look us in the eye and answer their question, ?What have you given back?? I feel I need to give back more.
Why the shift? It started about six months ago now, about the time President Obama came in and our Congress started with handouts and bailouts and out-of-control spending. That?s really when I started to consider the race. I normally can make a decision in a second as a doctor. I?m used to that. I?ve taken six months to make this decision. I love medicine, I love my patients. It?s been one of the hardest decisions of my life to leave that or put it on the line. I know that we need good leadership in Washington.
THE FIRST DISTRICT IS HUGE AND MOSTLY RURAL. WHAT MESSAGE IS GOING TO RESONATE WITH THEM?
Economics, jobs, spending — all of those things are tied together as the No. 1 issue. Clearly the No. 1 issue. Agriculture is a part of that, and the farm bill is going to be extremely important going forward because it is at risk as well with the current administration. Health care is another obvious issue.
And then the ability to actually solve problems and make policies that can help us. Energy and the need to get away from foreign oil. We consume annually about 7.5 billion barrels of oil. About 4.5 of that comes from foreign nations, foreign nations that in turn fund the Taliban and Al Qaeda. So we have to break away from dependency on foreign oil. We should look at the outer continental shelf…. That will bridge us to the time that we can develop alternative sources of energy. But we are extremely at risk for that, which ties us into national security issues as well, with nuclear Pakistan and a very unstable government next door to them.
I think in the long term, we?ve got to face the facts that this is a very frightening time for our nation. There are some who would say that America?s best days are behind us. I don?t believe that. I think our best days are ahead of us. But we?ve got to become involved, and that?s what brings me to this race.
YOUR STOP HERE IN HILLSBORO IS PART OF A MUCH LARGER TOUR PLAN, RIGHT? TELL US ABOUT IT.
Last night I had an hour?s worth of fun. I did a tele-town conference to all the counties in my district — 69 total — that I will not be physically in the next four days. It was an hour?s worth of great conversation with concerned Kansans. That started last night.
I launched in Emporia today with a standing-room-only crowd at Emporia State University. From here, we?re going to McPherson and on to Great Bend. Tonight we?ll be in Dodge, then to Garden and we?ll return to Hays and then to Hutch and then back home. We?ll also catch Salina, Clay Center, Junction City. So we will hit 10 communities in the three or four days. It?s just fun.
ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU?D LIKE TO GET OUT THERE?
I think the problems in front of us are clear. Our nation, our government is spending too much money. That is saddling families and businesses with taxes that keep us from being competitive. It leads to debt that will saddle even our great-grandchildren with a burden that they will struggle to shoulder. That has to be turned around. To do that, it?s going to take somebody with those core principals that can lead and work with others to find solutions. It?s a critical race and a critical time in America?s history.
ONE LAST THING. JERRY MORAN IS WIDELY RESPECTED IN THE FIRST DISTRICT . IS IT AT ALL INTIMIDATING TO TRY TO FILL THOSE SHOES?
They are huge shoes to fill. People have often asked me what kind of Republican I am. I?m a Jerry Moran conservative. That?s the best description. Jerry has those core value that we talked about and has worked in Congress hard for controlled spending and to protect the families of this district with tax policy. But also he?s been one who can work with others to bring home to the state of Kansas and the First Congressional District what?s needed. He?s been a great help to communities throughout the state. I intend to do the same. I will commute; I won?t live in Washington, I will live in Kansas and be home every weekend. I have a lot of energy.