By SCOTT AUST
Though his “official” announcement isn’t until Sept. 15, Wichita businessman and former state legislator Mark Hutton makes no bones about the fact that he is seeking to become the Republican nominee for Kansas governor in 2018.
“I want to bring solutions to the table. I want to bring transparency and remove the obstacles that we have in place today that we have on the education question. I want to bring people together to solve all that,” Hutton said during a meet-and-greet Wednesday at the Clarion Inn in Garden City. “I have my ideas, but good leaders listen first and then direct great people toward a solution.”
Hutton and his wife Mary visited Garden City as part of the effort to traverse the state to meet with people and tell his story. Hutton is not unfamiliar with Garden City.
“Mary and I were out here in 1977. We were just married and I was here to fix a project that another contractor had started over behind what at that time was the Gibson’s at five-points,” he said. “We spent 10 months out here doing that project. We met a lot of great people and friends. We think the world of Garden City, so when we had an opportunity to open an office here and felt like it was a good move for us, we took it.”
Hutton founded Wichita-based Hutton Construction 25 years ago, a business which employs 250 people and has had a satellite office in Garden City for eight years. He joins an already large field of candidates running for governor.
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, businessmen Wink Hartman and Ed O’Malley, former state senator Jim Barnett and Ken Selzer, Kansas Insurance Commissioner, are also seeking the nomination.
So far, three men are running for the Democratic nomination, including former state representative Josh Svaty, former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and state representative Jim Ward.
Hutton said there are a couple of areas in which he feels he differentiates himself from the crowded GOP field: experience creating and growing a successful business and experience in public service as a legislator.
Hutton started Hutton Construction in 1992. Seven years ago, he turned the company over to his son, Ben, because he felt a need to start giving back to the state through public service.
Hutton referred to ‘3 a.m. moments,’ which he described as taking steps at whatever the hour to keep the business going, knowing if he was unsuccessful he might have to lay people off.
“That changes your perspective on how you look at the world. I bring that perspective along with relationships and understanding of the legislative process, which makes me a unique candidate for this job,” he said.
Fiscally conservative, Hutton broke ranks with Gov. Sam Brownback during the 2016 legislative session about continuing to exempt owners of certain kinds of businesses from paying income tax, the so-called LEC loophole instituted in 2012. After four years in the state legislature, Hutton decided not to seek reelection last fall.
“As I watched the process from a distance after having been there, I was convinced there were so many opportunities to provide leadership and good governance to our state,” Hutton said in response to a question about why he decided to seek the governorship.
Regarding issues, Hutton quipped it’s really “pick your poison” but indicated the three top concerns are education funding, economic development and job creation and the budget.
Hutton felt the legislature was a little rushed during the last session in coming up with a decision on the school funding formula but also said he wasn’t there and didn’t want to nitpick their work.
“I found when I was there for four years that it’s way too easy for people who aren’t there to sit back and judge. Being there makes a big difference so I’m not going to second guess them,” he said. “I applaud the fact that they kept our schools open. I think that’s the most important thing to keep in mind, that we keep our kids moving forward in education.”
Hutton believes most Kansans would agree with a desire for the state’s schools to be the best in the country; the question is how to reach that goal.
“With good leadership and removing barriers to getting people to sit down and talk, I think we can arrive at a good solution,” he said.