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Schmidt selects running mate with local ties


PITTSBURG, Kan. — Republican gubernatorial candidate and Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has announced the selection of Katie Sawyer, a former staffer for U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall with ties to Pittsburg, as his running mate in the governor’s race. 

"Katie Sawyer brings a new generation of young and energetic leadership to help us move Kansas forward to a bright and better tomorrow," Schmidt said in making the announcement. "Katie's intellect, values, tenacity, and passion for serving Kansans are what we need to leave our state better than we found it." 

Both Schmidt and Sawyer discussed their campaign plans as well as their connections to the local area in an interview Wednesday. 

“I’m excited and humbled by the opportunity, and I look forward to hitting the ground running and talking to Kansans, and figuring out how we get this state back on track, and working alongside Derek to do that,” Sawyer said of being chosen as Schmidt’s running mate. 

If elected, Sawyer, who is 38, will be the youngest Republican lieutenant governor nationwide. Although she grew up in McPherson, Sawyer is not only a Pittsburg State University graduate, but also a former reporter for the Morning Sun. She later went on to work as managing editor of the McPherson Sentinel. Working in journalism, Sawyer said, was “great preparation” for getting into politics. 

“As a journalist you need to know what people think and what’s going on in your community, especially at these local papers, and so my job at both papers was to understand the issues, talk to people, and understand their thoughts and feelings about an issue and its impact,” she said.  

“That’s what we’re doing on this campaign. We’re going to go out and we’re going to talk to Kansans and we’re going to talk about, you know, the issues and opportunities that they have in front of them, and talk about our vision for growing Kansas and making their communities better.” 

Schmidt also highlighted his local ties in making the case for why voters should pick him over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly in November. 

“I’m a proud Southeast Kansan. Independence is home. I love our corner of the state,” Schmidt said, adding that his wife is a former Pittsburg State University instructor. 

“So we have some long and deep ties to the region and to Crawford County in particular,” he said, “and so, you know, I understand our region’s needs, I understand our challenges.” 

Like Schmidt, Sawyer noted the importance of PSU to the local economy in Southeast Kansas. 

“Pittsburg State is a regional leader and they do important work down there, and I think we want to make sure and concentrate on keeping all those students that Pittsburg State trains and keeping them in Kansas,” she said. “We want to put that talent to work in our communities, both there in Southeast Kansas and from whatever community they originated out of.” 

Besides Pittsburg State, Schmidt also commented on local infrastructure work, as well as the medical sector that plays a significant role in the area’s economy. 

“In terms of trying to encourage more investment in our region, we understand the importance, for example, of transportation infrastructure and the critical importance of finishing the US 69 project, so that that promise is kept and not left hanging,” he said. 

Healthcare facilities in the Pittsburg and Joplin area “are regional centers,” Schmidt said, “and it’s really important that they have not only sort of general practitioner investment, but that you also have the ability from throughout the Southwest Missouri/Southeast Kansas area to access certain specialty services in the area, so it’s not necessary to go to Kansas City or Springfield or Tulsa for, you know, every type of medical treatment that’s available.” 

Another priority that Schmidt said he will focus on if elected is tackling the problem of drug and alcohol abuse. 

“It’s very real, it’s not always the happiest subject to talk about, but as a Southeast Kansan, I am very mindful of it. Throughout Kansas and the region, including in our area, we have significant challenges regarding substance abuse — addiction, whether it’s alcohol or drugs,” Schmidt said. 

“And that affects not only […] the individuals involved and their health situation, it also affects our workforce in the region, which is critical to being able to ensure that our base employers, our manufacturers for example, can continue to find and employ the people they need in order to remain and grow in our communities.” 

Schmidt said his other plans include increasing support for public safety, as well as lowering taxes. 

“Perhaps not surprisingly, having served as attorney general now for nearly 12 years, community safety is very high on my list of priorities. We’ve done a lot over the last decade-plus, but I believe there’s more we can do from the governor’s office in terms of supporting some of the community safety issues, public safety issues, criminal justice issues, and so we’ll stay focused on that,” he said.  

“We will certainly be focused on the high cost of living in Kansas, and obviously one of the things that government policy affects in that regard is the tax burden and the tax load. I think there are a number of different areas where we’ll be advocating for tax relief for working families, for middle class families, for Kansans who are sort of the backbone of our communities.” 

Overall, Schmidt stressed that he will prioritize a small-government approach toward encouraging economic growth. 

“At the end of the day, state leaders need to listen to leaders in the communities, so that we understand what the game plan is, what the strengths and the strategy for growing and making our communities the best they can be is, and then we fall in behind and offer the state’s support,” Schmidt said. “It’s rarely a good idea to show up and say ‘We’re here from Topeka and we’re here to help,’” he added, echoing the famous quote from Ronald Reagan ("The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the government and I'm here to help.") 

“We will wake up every day and go to work with a focus on how we grow Kansas, how we persuade more of our young folks and young families to choose to remain here or to return home, how we encourage more investment and more opportunities in this state, because we want to leave it better than we found it,” Schmidt said, “and that will be an overarching theme that colors everything that we do.”