By JONATHAN ZWEYGARDT
As an independent, Rick Kloos is hoping his populist message will help him carve out a place in the already jam-packed race for Kansas governor.
Kloos, a Miltonvale-area native, has been traveling the state along with his wife, Pennie, for the past seven months taking part in parades and fairs and talking with Kansans about the direction the state is heading.
The current state of conditions in Kansas and wanting to make a better life for his children and grandchildren led Kloos, a political newcomer, to enter the race.
“Just looking at where our state’s been, you know it seems like Kansas has just been on a downslide,” said Kloos. “We’re just at a pivotal place, and I just kept saying things need to be different.”
Kloss began working as a truck driver in his teens, graduated with a degree in theology and ministerial studies and worked for several years as a police and hospice chaplain. He also has worked in real estate flipping and selling houses.
In 2009, Kloos and his wife opened the nonprofit thrift God’s Storehouse in Topeka, which employs approximately 30 people.
Because he has been in public service all his life, Kloos said he believes as an independent he can “be about the people.”
Kloos, who has already collected the necessary signatures to be on the ballot, said when people talk about needing new leadership, “it’s leading from the bottom up and treating people with dignity, being respectful to everyone.”
“The governor’s to represent all the people of Kansas, not just a party and so, as an independent, I feel like I can branch out and do that,” Kloos said.
With almost 19 candidates already announcing their intention to run for Kansas governor in 2018, some believe it could be difficult for Kloos to gain traction as an independent, but he believes voters do not vote along party lines anymore.
“They vote on the individual and you can see that in a lot of elections that’s been happening,” he said. “People are really looking at that individual to see what that person will bring by policy and what their values are.
“If there is ever a window of opportunity for an independent, it’s right now,” said Kloos. “I really believe as an independent I can truly represent the people.”
He also pointed to this past legislative session, which was more than 110 days, as an example of the two sides being so far apart.
“Now you’ve got people that are so hard to the right (and) so far to the left, people are really just looking for balance,” Kloos said. “There used to be a time where we could just agree to disagree and now it’s craziness, and it just seems like there’s so much conflict.”
With a number of issues facing Kansas lawmakers in 2018 and beyond, Kloos said that being a political novice means he will have to lean on others.
“That’s what’s good about being independent, as well, because whether they are from a party or not from a party, I will be able to choose the people that’s going to move Kanas forward,” he said.
Kloos said it’s also about empowering the right people to make Kansas’ entities successful. That includes teachers in support of education and prison staff — both of which will be important topics in 2018.
Kloos’ campaign has adopted the theme of “Keep Kansas Home.”
He said it is important to the future of the state that when kids graduate they choose to stay in Kansas.
“It comes down to people feeling welcome, us offering something to Kansans and those that are considering to move to Kansas,” Kloos said.
He said lawmakers can offer incentives to draw people to Kansas, especially smaller communities where the populations continue to decline — but it is going to take time.
“We’ve got to be realistic in our outlook. We didn’t get like this overnight. It’s not going to change overnight.”
He also said one of the responsibilities of the next governor will be to restore confidence in the office because people do not have a positive opinion of all levels of government.
Kloos said working in a bipartisan way will help, as well as not making promises that can’t be kept.
“I’m going to do my best for the people of Kansas but there’s a lot of things that we’ve got to adjust and we’ve got to work hard at,” he said. “I will promise this: I’ll do my best and try to represent the people of Kansas to the best of my ability.”