Steve Kraske: The most natural, and unnatural, politicians in Missouri and Kansas

06/13/2014 5:13 PM

06/13/2014 6:16 PM

LeBron James is a natural. Bill Clinton is often described as a natural. Robert Redford played “The Natural.”

And when former congressman Bill Roy died a couple of weeks ago, he was described as one of the most natural politicians Kansas had ever seen.

That got me to thinking about the most instinctive, gifted, born-to-run — and those who lack those talents — public officials I’ve come across in my years covering Missouri-Kansas politics.

Definition: Naturals relish the trappings of power, think politics is as much fun as Christmas morning and can wade into any crowd and have a ball.

Here’s my list of the top five, in no order, in both categories.

Most natural

1. Wendell Bailey. Loved politics. Loved people. The former two-term Missouri treasurer once campaigned in an old armored truck decked out as a campaign bus. Missouri politics haven’t been the same since he departed the stage.

2. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. He can tame the fiercest tea partier, reporter or Democrat in any room. He just talks to everybody and anybody. Never breaks a sweat.

3. Former Missouri governor Roger Wilson. His trademark greeting was “How ya dooooin’?” which he applied to friend and foe alike. Completely at ease in a sea of strangers. Then again, no one was a stranger to Wilson. Among the two or three most gifted retail pols I’ve covered.

4. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri. Can score points in a room full of Republicans even on a topic like Obamacare. She gets politics and she gets policy, which in baseball terms is like a player who can win 20 games as a pitcher and bat .300.

5. Mayor Sly James. He was born to be a Kansas City mayor.

Hall of fame: Bob Stephan, the four-term Kansas attorney general from 1979 to 1995. An astonishing combo of gregarious and law-and-order tough.

Most unnatural

1. Former Missouri governor Matt Blunt. No chip off the old block. Had the smarts but never seemed at peace with the office. Maybe that’s why he served only one term.

2. Former Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser. Duh.

3. Former governor Mel Carnahan. A master at the legislative game but more introvert than extrovert.

4. Former U.S. senator and Missouri governor John Ashcroft. Maybe I placed him here because he’d drive 5 miles to dodge a conversation with a reporter. Often seemed ill at ease, which is amazing given his electoral success.

5. Former Kansas governor Mike Hayden. Hayden connected with western Kansans, but not easterners, and it killed him politically.

To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or send email to


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