Buzz blog contributors who cover politics for The Star regularly chat about recent political news from Kansas, Missouri or our nation’s capital. This week, Bryan Lowry and Hunter Woodall chat about the increasingly crowded race for Kansas governor.
Bryan: Well, we better get started because somebody else is probably going to declare they're running for Kansas governor in the next 10 seconds. We have enough candidates at this point to have a basketball game... with subs.
Hunter: That's right, Bryan. Between the Republicans and Democrats who have either declared or are looking at the race, I think they'd be able to field a kickball team to rival our intrepid Star squad.
Bryan: The first rule of kickball is: You do not talk about kickball. We don't want people knowing how bad we are.
But let's just take a look at the Republicans for a second. This week Governor-in-waiting Colyer officially declared he's running in 2018. The day before, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer confirmed to you that he'll also seek the office.
That's after Secretary of State Kris Kobach jumped in earlier this year. That means Kansans can look forward to three of the state's top officials in open warfare with each other for the next 12 months. This is going to be fun.
Hunter: I have to wonder if something like this has ever happened before. We're getting to the point that Kansas is close to having its own political version of “Game of Thrones.” Lots of people with ties to leadership now saying they have a claim or are qualified to have the Iron Throne, or as it’s known in Kansas, Cedar Crest.
Bryan: Since Brownback was term-limited, 2018 was always going to be a year of change, but I think the urgency has been heightened by the news that he will depart from office early to take a position in Trump's administration.
Brownback has been the most dominant force in the Kansas Republican Party since Bob Dole gave up his Senate seat in 1996. This election will determine the new face of the GOP in the Sunflower State. And while Kobach looks to be the early favorite just based on name recognition, the fact that Colyer will actually be governor when it's time to vote in the primary can't hurt.
Hunter: In that sense, it will be interesting to see who Brownback supports in the election. A political scientist I spoke with yesterday noted Colyer is a good fundraiser, but it seems that Kobach comes in as the closest thing to Trump in Kansas, in terms of both support and sharing similar policy ideas.
Bryan: Fundraising is going to be key.
And that's why I wouldn't write off Wink Hartman, a prominent Wichita businessman who can self-fund if he wants. Hartman made a run for Congress in 2010, but he came up short in the primary against Mike Pompeo, who has since gone onto serve as Trump's CIA director. One advantage Pompeo had over Hartman is that he had the backing of an even more prominent Wichita businessman: Charles Koch. If the Koch network ends up backing Colyer over Kobach, that could help even the playing field.
But let's talk about the Democrats. It's a real possibility that we could see Kobach debating a high school student at the Kansas State Fair next year.
Hunter: Who knew a 16-year-old could be governor? Apparently not many. When I spoke to Jack Bergeson, the high school student, this week he kept talking about how all he needed was to get into the debates. He'd have to make it through some Dems before that could happen though, and it seems like we'll see at least one more candidate declare soon enough. And of course, the possibility of independent Greg Orman always lingers.
Bryan: This is getting to be a bit like WWE's Royal Rumble, full of surprise entrants. Honestly, I think each candidate needs their own theme music.
Among Democratic candidates that are old enough to buy beer, you have former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, former state Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty and Arden Anderson, a doctor from Olathe. But House Minority Leader Jim Ward has strongly hinted at a run and he would have a lot of appeal to the party’s progressive base.
One thing we shouldn't overlook is that this is a lot of men on each side. The last two Democratic governors elected in Kansas were female. Is there any chance a woman enters the race in either party?
Hunter: There's a definite chance. Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, hasn't ruled out running for governor. And some of the leading moderate Republicans and Democratic lawmakers in Kansas are women, fresh off a 2017 legislative session where they played a decisive role in rolling back the Brownback tax cuts.
Bryan: I think the one question that remains is whether any candidate on either side is ready to compete with Kobach. Look at the campaign rollout. He had already made a professionally-produced commercial, called reporters from around the region to his kickoff event and delivered a speech with three clear (albeit questionable) talking points about his vision for Kansas. Some of these other guys haven't had the smoothest rollouts. I had a lawmaker quip to me recently that Kobach's playing at the NFL level and a lot of the other candidates are playing at the high school level.
Hunter: Kobach has essentially thrown down the gauntlet and effectively said, “I'm the one to beat.” Both Colyer and Selzer were slim on details this week when asked about their campaigns, saying more information would come later. There were no big rallies, no pomp and circumstance. Kobach, on the other hand, put on a show that attracted quite a bit of attention, even though it came towards the close of the legislative session.
Kobach seems to be running like he can't be beat, while others seem to be keener to hold back and wait in the wings.