PITTSBURG, Kan. — Katie Sawyer, who is campaigning for the position of lieutenant governor as Republican Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt’s running mate, visited Pittsburg on Thursday, stopping by the Family Resource Center and the Southeast Kansas Career and Technical Education Center (CTEC) before sitting down for an interview with the Morning Sun, where she once worked.
At CTEC, Sawyer said, she was able to learn more about the programs that are offered for high school students, non-traditional students, and community college students.
“When we’re out on the campaign trail, two of the things we hear a lot about are workforce issues, both just physically, people, bodies for the job, and also having — especially in the trades area — having the people who have the skills to be able to build our homes and repair our cars and fix our air conditioners in the middle of the summer,” she said. “The CTEC program provides those skills for those kids who are doing all of that.
Sawyer, who is a Pittsburg State University graduate, said her visit was part of a broader tour through Southeast Kansas.
“We started the day in Montgomery County and we’ll end the day back in Montgomery County,” she said. “We had some stops there, visited one of the community colleges there and talked to some business owners as well.”
Sawyer’s visit followed a candidate forum on Wednesday sponsored by the Kansas Chamber.
“That was a good opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates and what they had to say,” she said. “It’s, you know, a largely business crowd, and so talking a lot about economic development and in particular with our campaign, it’s emphasizing the need to not grow the government but grow the employees and the businesses, and in particular growing the population of the state.”
She said a gubernatorial debate planned for 10:30 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Kansas State Fair was likely to have a different focus.
“It always has a bit of an agriculture bent to it, because you are at the Kansas State Fair and that is kind of an ag-focused event, and so, you know, we look forward to the opportunity to kind of talking about agriculture, rural economies, policies that, you know, impact our rural parts of our state,” Sawyer said.
Among other issues, Sawyer weighed in on the outcome of the Value Them Both Amendment vote regarding abortion in early August.
“Obviously we watched the outcome of that vote, and that was informative,” she said, “because that was an opportunity for the voters to tell us if this was a topic they wanted to move forward, and the outcome of that vote told our campaign that that is not a topic that the voters want to prioritize right now.”
One area that Sawyer and Schmidt are now focusing on as a priority, Sawyer said, is the economy, along with ongoing problems stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we’re focused on is, unfortunately, still trying to recover from the impacts of Covid,” she said. “Our current governor, you know, both shut down our schools and shut down several thousand businesses across our state through her system of what was essential and non-essential. We as a state severely lag most other states in terms of recouping those jobs lost. One in three small businesses that the governor shut down have never reopened.”
Sawyer said that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly talks a lot about the unemployment rate.
“What’s more indicative and more telling is the labor participation rate,” Sawyer said. “That’s the percentage of people who are able, within the parameters of age and ability, to be working, that are choosing not to work. Now there’s a variety of reasons that people may be doing it, but we know for certain there are people who were in the workforce pre-pandemic who were given a lot of assistance to stay on the sidelines, and the governor helped with that.”
Once the first round of additional federal unemployment assistance ran out, Sawyer said, Kelly could have declined to extend further assistance.
“As we saw surrounding state governors cut off the additional federal unemployment assistance after the original round was depleted and it was moved to a FEMA assistance program, she could have stepped up and said ‘No, we believe Kansans have opportunities to go back to work. I hear from the employers that they need to go back to work.’ But she didn’t,” Sawyer said.
On a less political topic, Sawyer said she appreciated coming back to Pittsburg after previously knowing the local community from the perspective of a college student.
“It’s nice to see the community has continued to grow and thrive,” she said. “I know you guys are getting some new businesses and stuff, so it’s just great to come back and see the continued growth both on campus and community-wide down here.”