What are we going to do when there is no Sam Brownback to beat up on?
The Republican Kansas governor, who has been a pin-cushion for journalists, cannot run again. He still has more than two years left in his second term of office. Or does he? There are rumors that Brownback, who has been bloodied by a nightmarish series of self-imposed financial catastrophes, might opt to leave office early to fill the open position of president of Kansas State University in Manhattan.
Suppose he did just that.
That would seem to put Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, who would be the incumbent governor, in a strong position to win in 2018, should he run. But it might not be a cakewalk for Colyer.
Hanging over Colyer, a Johnson County physician, is the cloud of having been part of a Brownback administration. Independent polls indicate that Brownback has horrendous approval ratings. In fact, one national poll last year concluded that Brownback was the most unpopular governor in America. How would you like to hitch your wagon to that?
Colyer’s home address in Johnson County is a high hurdle to overcome. Most of Kansas hates Johnson County and wants no part of electing someone from there to the state’s highest office.
While we’re on the topic of governor, let’s consider who else might run. Mike Pompeo, a right-wing GOP congressman from Wichita since 2011, mulled over running against Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran. He then came to his senses. It would’ve been a slaughter. It suggests, however, Pompeo has higher aspirations. Some think Brownback and his cronies, like the Koch brothers of Wichita, would want to anoint Pompeo as their candidate to be the next governor. A reliable fanatic, Pompeo surely would want to continue the irresponsible policies that have destroyed Kansas.
Lynn Jenkins, a GOP congresswoman from Topeka since 2009, has been rumored to be interested in a run for governor. The former Kansas treasurer from 2003-2008 is well regarded and has avoided controversy. I would never want to curse her with the moniker “moderate Republican,” which would be her death-knell. But Jenkins, who is a reasonable conservative, is level-headed and no zealot. Her chances are remote, even though she does have some statewide name recognition from her years as treasurer. In an era when reasonable people are not rewarded, Jenkins is probably too well-balanced to win in the primary.
No one will be in a better spot to win the governor’s seat than Kris Kobach, unless he waits for a U.S. Senate run. The Kansas secretary of state since 2011 has enormous statewide name identification. Not only that, but he has considerable name recognition and a following nationally because of his crusade against illegal immigration. Money would pour into his campaign from all over Kansas and all over America.
Kobach is also in the unique position of having served in two Brownback administrations, yet he is not tarnished with the financial calamity. Rather, he spent his valuable time chasing non-existent voter fraud in Kansas, where Kobach still says illegal immigrants are voting, despite the fact he has not prosecuted one such case.
In 2014, while Brownback struggled to beat his Democratic challenger Paul Davis, Kobach was swept to victory over his Democratic opponent Jean Schodorf. Granted, Kobach’s opponent did not spend much on her campaign, as Davis did. But if Kobach were unpopular with Kansans, he never would’ve received almost 60 percent of the vote.
I didn’t name potential Democratic candidates for governor in 2018. That was no oversight.
Other than Davis trying again, there is no Democrat yet who has emerged as a viable candidate. That’s really unfortunate because Brownback’s poor performance leaves that opportunity wide open.
Steve Rose, longtime Johnson County columnist: firstname.lastname@example.org