Battling angry wasps was Greg Orman’s first job.
As a 7-year-old, the independent candidate now challenging U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts decided a quarter was a fair market rate for his services. He’d take a long stick and a garden hose and set to work. He got stung a lot.
It was a fitting start for the epic throwdown Orman is courting now. An angry GOP establishment is riled up and coming after him. If Orman takes Roberts’ seat, he could dismantle the Republicans’ goal of taking control of the U.S. Senate.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach seized the moment to polish his image within the GOP. He’s using his office to keep the name of another candidate, Democrat Chad Taylor, on the ballot. Never mind that Taylor has withdrawn.
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Sen. Claire McCaskill stepped into the mess as well, reportedly being part of the Democratic shoving that convinced Taylor to bow out and give Orman a better shot. Roberts’ stake in maintaining his 30-plus years in Washington is being reinforced with a new campaign staff. That likely made a difference in his attack-dog stature during last weekend’s debate.
But it’s all more of the same. Backbiting, ploys and the back-and-forth of American politics today. Exactly what Orman, 45, seeks to upend.
“Politics, unfortunately, has devolved into a process of trying to identify the most negative aspect or attribute about an opponent,” Orman said in an interview. “We don’t have honest, fact-based discussion about the issues.”
The issues that Orman prefers to wax on about are the ones that affect people dearly: affordability of health care, education, streamlining government regulation so businesses can be more competitive.
In response, Roberts carts out predicable efforts to attach a label: a Democrat masquerading as an independent. Problem is, the easy tagging doesn’t fit.
Among Orman’s prized possessions — some framed and boxed in his Olathe office — is a range of political mementos. Campaign pins from Hubert Humphrey, for whom his maternal grandfather worked; Ross Perot, whom he quoted in his Princeton yearbook; and Bob Dole, whom he greeted recently as one of the first in line when the elderly statesman was on a tour of Kansas. Dole especially is old-school politics. A man from before compromise became a dirty word in D.C.
Orman holds a clear strain of self-made American idealism, but with an acknowledgment that others helped him along the way. You’ll find no tirades against the poor from him. Or excuse-making for out-of-check entitlement spending or social policy that can’t be proved effective in raising people’s ability to self-sustain.
He’s a self-made businessman, one of six children raised by a single mother in Mankato, Minn.
“I grew up knowing that for me to succeed in this world, it wasn’t going to get handed to me,” Orman said.
Because his mother worked long hours as a nurse, Orman was among the older siblings who helped cook meals.
“We occasionally qualified for free and reduced lunch, government-provided cheese,” he said.
Some of his wife’s recent experiences teaching in the Turner School District reinforce current struggles of less affluent families.
After Orman’s parents divorced when he was a toddler, his father remained a figure in his life and traveled regularly to visit. After the sixth grade, Orman spent summers working for his father’s furniture business, which still operates in Overland Park. He absorbed the struggles of the small-business owner and of tight margins.
“Dad always said that three bad months and they would have to close the door,” he said.
Orman lays out similarities with how he operates in business and his approach to politics — data-driven dissection of problems, followed by designing and implementing a solution. He set about reading the Affordable Care Act earlier in the year. All of it, page by page, marking spots that sparked interest, concern for costs. It’s an approach that not many of the health care law’s critics, nor those who voted for it, can claim.
For Orman to be elected — or for any candidate who wants to step away from strident name-calling and partisanship — voters will have to stop falling for easy spin.
Huffing and puffing with cutesy quips that attempt to link an opponent to a president with a low approval rating is the game of those who would struggle to discuss the Affordable Care Act or any issue facing the country with expertise. It’s how people who waste voters’ time act.
Decision-making led by common sense and the ability to negotiate compromises doesn’t happen that way. Those are the skills voters need to send to Washington, regardless of party label.