Before the 2018 race for Kansas governor gets too far along, let’s all agree on a central point:
The next governor will face crucial decisions on a range of thorny issues as the state digs out from the Sam Brownback years. Funding for schools. Funding for social service agencies. Funding for the state pension and highway systems. There will be intense focus on water policy and ongoing concerns about concealed weapons.
As we pointed out last week in this space, the $1.2 billion in tax increases that lawmakers passed this year will help enormously in stabilizing the state in the wake of Brownback’s disastrous, ill-advised tax cuts. But they won’t solve the problem completely.
That suggests that the next governor will need to consider further tax bumps.
Let there be no doubt: We need the best and brightest of Kansans to step forward to ensure voters will choose from several qualified candidates and to spur a robust debate about ideas in 2018.
For better or worse, Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who announced last month that he is seeking the governorship, is the best-known of the current batch of candidates running and a serious contender to win the office.
But his missteps have been many: Kobach is known for his unceasing ability to gin up controversy, his relentless pursuit of illegal immigration and his early pledge to restore Brownback’s tax cuts. And did we mention that he’s something of a grandstander?
None of those attributes will do the state any good as it seeks to forge ahead.
We believe Kansas needs a problem-solver who is the polar opposite of an ideologue. We need someone who has a laser focus on the state and its needs and not on national office.
To that end, we’d like to see other prominent Kansans consider making a run.
Congressman Kevin Yoder of Overland Park, a Republican, has publicly flirted with a gubernatorial run for months but appears to be edging away. We’ve disagreed with some of his decisions, including his vote to overturn Obamacare, but his experience as the chief budget negotiator during his days in the state House of Representatives would serve him well in Kansas’ highest office.
He would bring a different brand of conservatism than Kobach. And he could win a GOP primary.
Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt has distinguished himself as a serious-minded public official who has tackled human trafficking and has battled stealing from the state Medicaid program. On the Democratic side, Paul Davis, the former House minority leader, appears inclined to run for Congress in the state’s 2nd District. But he proved to be a formidable candidate for governor in 2014, coming within four points of defeating Brownback.
To be sure, the current batch of contenders holds promise. Moderate Republican Ed O’Malley, a former Roeland Park state lawmaker who now heads the Kansas Leadership Center, fits the problem-solver mold. Democrat Jim Ward, the current House minority leader, has demonstrated a fiery ability to oppose Republicans in Topeka.
We’re also watching Josh Svaty, the former state representative from central Kansas who distinguished himself by winning a rural district as a Democrat. His bipartisan appeal is an important quality for any leader these days.
These times call for — no, make that demand — the most competitive of elections in Kansas. Mounting a potentially successful bid means getting organized this summer. Kansas needs and deserves its best to seek the governorship.