No one calls him “Willis,” and they haven’t for decades, though that’s his name.
Willis “Wink” Hartman gave brief remarks during an Elephant Club luncheon in Leawood on Tuesday. He started by explaining how he got his nickname–from a nursery rhyme.
“It’s the first thing everyone asks,” Hartman said.
“Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town, upstairs, downstairs in his nightgown,” the rhyme begins. Hartman slept in a nightgown as a child, and the nickname “Wink” stuck.
Today, you’re much more likely to find him in a suit than in nightclothes, and you’re as likely to find him in Johnson County as in his hometown near Wichita.
Hartman announced he’s running for Kansas Governor earlier this month, and he’s visiting the northeast part of the state regularly, hoping to meet voters.
As he told the Elephant Club last week in Leawood, “There are a lot of votes in Johnson County.”
The Wichita businessman isn’t a newcomer to politics. He unsuccessfully ran against against Congressman Mike Pompeo in the 2010 Republican primary, but he’s spent most of his life as a businessman.
Hartman owns several businesses, including Hartman Oil Co., H2 Trucking and several Jimmy’s Egg restaurants. For the last 26 years, he’s served as president of Hartman Oil, a company he purchased from his father in 1990.
Pivoting to Politics
He says he’s pivoting into politics, because he’d like to leave his eight grandchildren a better state to grow up in.
“We’re off track in Kansas,” he said.
As an example, he cited the state’s budget challenges.
“My skills are from the private sector,” Hartman explained. “In a business, a budget has to balance.”
In the private sector, savvy business leaders categorize necessities, he explained. At the state level, those are the things that sustain a state with laws–things like public safety, followed by items like public education and public health.
“Yes, we have to provide education. Yes, we have to provide health care,” he said.
However, previous administrations and legislators have run the budget by throwing money at a wall and hoping something sticks, according to Hartman.
“It’s ludicrous that the people of Kansas have suffered through years of smoke and mirrors budgeting to run the state,” he said.
Lawmakers continue to fund studies to find government efficiencies, but never follow-up and implement the suggestions. Specifically, he cited an efficiency study the Kansas Legislature commissioned in 2015. The Alvarez & Marsal study recommended 105 changes that could save the state up to $2 billion in the next 5 years.
“It’s laying on a desk somewhere in Topeka,” Hartman said.
Some of the recommendations included moving school district employees to a consolidated health insurance program and having school districts purchase items through a statewide program. Both proposals, which the study estimates save Kansas $600 million, were met with opposition from the school lobby when introduced in legislative committees this year.
The state has a spending problem, not a revenue problem, Hartman said.
Though known for business acumen, Hartman knows business failure, too. At one time, he owned a restaurant called the Lakeside Club.
“Some months were good. Some months were bad,” Hartman said. When it wasn’t pulling its weight, Hartman decided it would be smart to find another use for the restaurant building. He sold it.
“When you have a situation that’s not positive in the private sector, you can’t let it drag you down. You have to cut your losses, change course, and find a new way,” he said.
Hartman is the first Republican to formally launch a 2018 gubernatorial campaign. Former state legislator Ed O’Malley, Roeland Park, announced the formation of an exploratory committee last month. Democrat Carl Brewer, a former Wichita mayor, kicked off his campaign for Kansas governor last week.