In a stunning move that may be unprecedented historically, Republican gubernatorial hopeful Jim Barnett on Thursday picked his wife as his running mate.
Barnett, the former state senator from Emporia and the 2006 GOP nominee for governor, announced his wife, Rosie Hansen, as his choice for lieutenant governor.
“I think maybe this is a first,” Barnett said. “We have a very unusual campaign. It’s very unconventional. We love it that way. We feel good about that. We’re not so interested in looking at past campaigns.”
Barnett and his wife have been traveling the state together as they campaigned, covering 71,000 miles on the road. As they crisscrossed Kansas, they bonded over the many issues that need to be addressed by the next governor.
“We’ve had so much fun meeting Kansans and talking with Kansans,” Barnett said. “We drove around, listening, asking people, ‘What do you want in your next governor?'”
Hansen called the campaign a “fascinating journey” for the last two years.
“We are partners in every sense of the word,” she said at a news conference in Topeka. “We’ve been traveling the state together and we’ve been listening to and meeting amazing Kansans every step of the way.”
As they spent hours in a truck traversing the Kansas plains, the Barnetts shared ideas about what they’ve learned and how they could improve the state.
“We spend hours in the truck talking,” Hansen said. “We’ve talked and talked about what to do, how to do it, what we’ve heard, what amazing people we’ve talked to.”
Hansen worked as a foreign service officer for the U.S. State Department from 1985 through 2011. Part of her work there included setting up the U.S. embassy in Kuwait after the Gulf War. She also helped set up the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo as the war ended there.
She has a law degree from the University of Minnesota and a master’s in public administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Barnett said he chose his wife from among four candidates.
“I couldn’t talk her into it for a while,” Barnett said. “It was not an easy choice because I had other wonderful people to consider.”
Barnett said the husband-wife relationship would not distract from governing.
“We’re really focused on Kansas, what can we do for Kansas,” he said. “If we don’t pivot, if we don’t shift, we’re never going to know Kansas like we used to love it. We’ve got to have someone different than what we had the last seven years with Brownback-Colyer.”
Barnett has been trailing the leading GOP primary contenders – Gov. Jeff Colyer and Secretary of State Kris Kobach – in polling of the race so far this year.
Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty said he had never heard of an instance of a husband and wife teaming up to run for governor and lieutenant governor in Kansas – or elsewhere nationally.
Barnett’s choice of his wife as a running mate, Beatty said, shouldn’t be discounted as a novelty.
“This has the potential to get a lot of attention,” Beatty said. “It’s going to generate a lot of interest as he campaigns and travels the state.”
In the era of flamboyant candidates such as Democrat Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump, Beatty warned against blowing off Barnett’s dramatic move.
“I don’t laugh at anything any more,” he said.
Barnett’s announcement rounds out the running mate picks for the eight major candidates running for governor.
Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer named Tracey Mann as his lieutenant governor and running mate. And Secretary of State Kris Kobach tapped Wichita businessman Wink Hartman as his running mate. Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer chose Goodland businesswoman Jenifer Sanderson as his running mate.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Laura Kelly chose fellow state Sen. Lynn Rogers of Wichita as her running mate. Former state Rep. Josh Svaty picked former Blackhawk pilot Katrina Lewison of Manhattan as his running mate. Former Democratic Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer chose former Gardner Mayor Chris Morrow.
Independent candidate Greg Orman selected state Sen. John Doll.