The worst job anybody could have in these parts?
Let’s once again nominate the chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, which has no members elected to statewide office, no members among the state’s congressional delegation and barely enough members to make a dent in the Legislature.
A new sucker, er, chairman, has just started on the job. So let’s all say hello to John Gibson, who earned his political stripes as chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party more than a decade ago. He’s an MIT grad, so you might reasonably assume that he knows what he has gotten himself into. He works as a patent lawyer near Topeka, and he came highly recommended by some very smart long-time Kansas Democrats.
On top of all that, Gibson is wildly bullish about Democratic prospects in one of the nation’s reddest states.
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“There’s not a place I’d rather be as a Democrat right now,” he told me on the radio this week.
Then again, what’s he supposed to say?
But things do look more promising than usual for a party that’s perpetually on the outside looking in. Gov. Sam Brownback continues his reign as the most unpopular governor in America. President Donald Trump is dangerously underwater when it comes to his approval ratings.
Meanwhile in Topeka, Republicans are scrambling to plug self-inflicted budget holes totaling hundreds of millions and looking at tax increases to do it.
As Gibson travels the state, he finds Democrats turning out in droves to hear him. “We’re bringing (extra) chairs into meeting after meeting,” he said.
So maybe Kansas isn’t such a bad place for the new Democratic chair after all.
But there’s a truism in U.S. politics that’s worth considering right about now. You’ve got to beat somebody with somebody, and the word from several sources in Topeka these days suggests that Democrats may have a gaping hole at the top of their lineup heading into 2018. That’s when the state will elect a new governor.
Mercifully, Brownback can’t run again because of term limits. But the great hope of Democrats has been that Paul Davis will take another shot at it. He came within four points of upsetting Brownback in 2014, and many analysts concluded that all the national money that poured into the state to bolster Sen. Pat Roberts that year wound up rescuing Brownback, too.
But Davis is now expected to run for Congress next year in the 2nd District. That hurts because winning back the governor’s office next year is achievable. Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer has already announced for governor, but he’s largely unknown statewide.
No other well-known Democrat is on the scene. That’s challenge one for Gibson.
Then consider all the other decisions Gibson must make. He has a boatload of candidates to recruit for statewide positions such as attorney general and secretary of state. He has to find Democrats to run for the state’s four U.S. House seats, not to mention the 165-member Legislature.
There are county parties to build and then there are questions about priorities that need to be set. Do you dump precious dollars into a long-shot race for governor, say, or do you save those dollars to make deeper inroads into the statehouse? Do you focus on winning a congressional seat or two, or do you try to pick off a statewide office that can be used as a launching pad for future gubernatorial candidates?
There’s a broader question here, too: Does Gibson finally take the common-sense step of giving the party a slightly more conservative tinge to appeal to that vast swath of dissatisfied moderate Republicans?
Lots of tough questions. Lots of long odds. Why would anybody want the job?