Republican state Rep. Steven Johnson, an Assaria farmer running for the GOP nomination for state treasurer, is officially alone in the GOP race but expects the field to expand. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — State Treasurer candidate Steven Johnson said he was confident about the tone of responses if people in his hometown of Assaria were asked to describe the farmer and politician.
His advantage would be that many folks in the 400-person community south of Salina ought to have some idea where he stood on issues after 10 years in the Kansas Legislature. He also takes part in farming land settled by his great-great-grandparents. And, he was student body president at Kansas State University, worked in the financial services field and earned a master’s degree in finance at University of Chicago.
“They would generally say that I am very thoughtful and consider all of the information in coming to a decision about where to push a policy or how to vote,” Johnson said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “In terms of the fiscal side, I am conservative on spending. I’m very conservative on saying we have to be fiscally responsible in meeting what liabilities we have taken on.”
Johnson was the first Republican and second candidate overall to let it be known a campaign for state treasurer was on the horizon.
In addition to incumbent Treasurer Lynn Rogers, a Wichita Democrat appointed to the job, the GOP primary could attract others with ties to the Kansas Legislature. State Sen. Caryn Tyson, from former Gov. Sam Brownback’s hometown of Parker, and former Kansas Policy Institute lobbyist Michael Austin, who worked in the Brownback administration, have explored a run for treasurer.
“I would imagine that there are other people looking at it,” Johnson said. “I’ve heard some names, and none have announced yet, but we’ll continue to watch that. I know that there is interest across the state in the party and returning the seat to Republican hands.”
Rogers, the Democrat seeking election to the job in 2022, was serving as lieutenant governor when appointed treasurer by Gov. Laura Kelly. The position was suddenly vacant when Republican Jake LaTurner resigned in January to take a seat in the U.S. House.
When Johnson stepped into the state treasurer’s race nearly two weeks ago, Rogers responded by alleging Johnson sided with special interests over taxpayers as a legislator and was running for treasurer to create a stepping stone to “something else.”
“Kansans will now have a choice when they vote — a candidate who votes to help special-interest groups, lining their pockets with your dollars and ignoring the needs of Kansas families,” Rogers said. “Or, me, a candidate who believes in being responsible with public dollars and making sure Kansans are being taken care of.”
All three of the previous Republican state treasurers — Lynn Jenkins, Ron Estes and LaTurner — have been elected to the U.S. House.
The Kansas Republican Party and other GOP politicians objected to Kelly’s decision to award the treasurer’s job to a Democrat rather than honor preferences of Kansas voters who in 2018 elected a Republican — LaTurner — to represent them in Topeka. In 2017, Brownback appointed LaTurner as state treasurer once Estes resigned after winning a special congressional election.
However, Johnson said he was concentrating on who would be state treasurer following statewide elections next year.
“The rules are what you’re able to do, and that is the way that those non-constitutional offices are set up,” he said. “Treasurer Rogers is serving currently, and I’ll be focused on who will be the treasurer in ’22.”
In Kansas, state treasurers operate as chief custodian of Kansas’ cash deposits, bond sales and the investment of those assets. The office also has jurisdiction over the state’s $2.7 billion college savings program and the unclaimed property program. State treasurers sit on the board of the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System and the Pooled Money Investment Board.
Johnson, 55, said he decided to be a candidate for treasurer because the position was a good fit with his private industry and public service experience. In financial services, he built investment models to set portfolios and, he said, “work on getting the most return you could for a given level of risk.”
In the Legislature, he’s served on budget, tax, pension, insurance and commerce committees in the Kansas House.
“I think in each of those, the experience in the Legislature helps to inform what’s happening in that treasurer’s office,” Johnson said.
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