Sunday, March 05, 2006

Washington Days thoughts

Hope in the HeartlandTwo days worth of photographs from Washington Days are in two photo albums at Fotki (Day 1, Day 2).
There were record crowds at the banquet, and it's easy to say that Senator Obama was the draw. I'm sure that's true for some people, but John Edwards is a big name and a rising star, but he didn't draw like Obama did. The Party had to add additional capacity because of the response. They expected a big crowd, but not this big.

The record crowds didn't just show up for the banquet. For the hours before and after the banquet, Democrats from around the state partied, chatted, and met a big slate of candidates. Long-time attendees told TfK that not only was attendance larger than usual, but the level of energy and excitement was greater than in past years.

Those crowds showed up to see a rising star and a powerful speaker, but they also came to see the future of Kansas. Paul Morrison was there working the crowd, four great candidates for the State Board of Education (one incumbent and three challengers) were talking about the brighter future they saw for Kansas schools.

Congressman Moore, Governor Sebelius, and any number of Democratic legislators were there to remind Kansas what we've achieved so far, and what we could do with more Democrats in office. Many people agreed that Governor Sebelius's leadership of the Party played a big role in the excitement this weekend. I think the strength of Paul Morrison's early campaigning, combined with the ongoing collapse not just of the Republican Party, but the major statewide Republican campaigns, has also lead to a lot of excitement among Democrats.

Paul Morrison is a great candidate. I asked why he switched parties, whether it was a change in the party or a personal change. His reply, "Both." In my interview with Congressman Moore, who has known Morrison since around 1984, when he hired Morrison, he said he wasn't surprised about the party change because law enforcement isn't partisan. Changes in the Republican party would be less obvious in that office than in legislative offices. In talking with Morrison, it's clear that the realization of the changes was gradual, but his wife told me "it fits him very well."

The buzz at Washington Days is that Phill Kline's campaign is in trouble. That he's having trouble raising cash is no secret, and the word on the street is that Karl Rove may come out to do a fundraiser for Mr. Kline's campaign.

The most encouraging person I met was John Doll, running against Jerry Moran in the First District. Doll's website is a little light on details or a sense of the man, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I worried he'd be an ultra-conservative Democrat, one who would be afraid to associate himself with the party or with its positions on any issue. Given how conservative the first district is, and its size, I expected anyone who would run out there to be clueless or quixotic.

What I found was a retired government studies teacher and basketball coach and a business owner who is personable, open, honest about his prospects, and proud to be a Democrat. He says his friends were surprised to learn that he was a Democrat, and he asked them "Do you think of me differently now?" Taking that message – that Democrats aren't hippies, aren't out to destroy anything, are normal people who want what's best – through western Kansas will be to the benefit of everyone around. He doesn't think his odds are great, and his goal is as much to make Mr. Moran talk about the important issues of western Kansas.

Asked about his chances of winning, he told me "Bucknell beat KU last year, so anything's possible." His major issues are local matters, agriculture, the Japanese beef embargo, ethanol plants to generate energy, and he's working hard to cover the 69 counties in the district (out of 105 counties in the state!), and to get the incumbent out there to take on the same issues. Twenty years as a teacher gives him a natural way with people, and I wish him well.

Democratic Board of Ed. CandidatesI only chatted briefly with Nancy Boyda, who's up for a rematch against Jim Ryun this year, and she sounds fired up. Hopefully we'll add an interview with her to the TfK interview series before too long. I've also still got about 20 minutes worth of interviews with the Board of Ed. candidates to transcribe.

Barbara Sharp, running for Insurance Commissioner, pledged not to take money from the insurance industry. It may seem obvious, but Sandy Praeger's finance records don't show that particular commitment to the people buying the insurance. "We're giving 'em something to talk about," she said, and she was right.

Without going through that, I will say that it's a great group and they look fired up to take back the Board. The incumbents will be backed by a powerful machine of conservative money, but I think Tim Cruz, Don Weiss, Janet Waugh, and Kent Runyan are ready to work hard on their own and as a group. I don't think they've been coordinating their campaigns very much, but I hope they look into that as the campaigns evolve.

In his speech, Senator Obama told the Democrats, "the time for our identity crisis is over." In talking to people this weekend, I saw a unified Democratic party, a party so unified that it's bringing in former Republicans like Cindy Neighbor and Paul Morrison. I saw a party with strong leadership, a clear sense of direction, and a surprisingly deep bench of people ready to step into leadership positions on the state and national level.

Good times.