Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Sebelius for VP?

As Diane says, it's very interesting that Sebelius will be on many a veep short list. Also short-sighted. Like kos points out, if the goal is to gender-balance the ticket, Arizona's Napolitano is a better pick for national electoral math. And I'd rather see Governor Sebelius be the first Democratic Senator from Kansas since approximately the Cenozoic. After two terms as Governor and with astounding popularity, she'll make a good match against whoever gets the GOP nomination (probably Jerry Moran).

That means that the smart thing for her to do is back John Doll now, to force Moran to take on some tough issues, rather than just letting him sail to another term in Congress. That she'll win re-election is becoming clearer as her opposition comes into clearer focus.

I saw the GOP candidates for governor speak last night, and boy was that an unimpressive showing. You don't have to believe me, the gang of kids in front of me said so. The entire crowd lacked any palpable energy, and the candidates picked that up. Jennison kept leaning back in his chair like he was watching TV, Barnett quietly droned about whatever came into his head, and Ken Canfield dropped as many names as he could to establish his credentials without having to actually think for himself.

If I were a Republican trying to pick my candidate, I don't know that last night would have advanced my thinking at all. The pre-selected questions were so bland that they skipped everything that might have given the candidates a chance to disagree. They all wanted to spend more on higher education (they were talking on campus, after all), they all wanted to cut taxes (though whether it should be property taxes or income taxes seems like a minor area of dispute), and they all are really, really angry that the Kansas Supreme Court made the legislature fund education adequately.

Over all, Barnett came across as agreeable but wishy-washy. He came across as a mediocre panderer, always trying to say something that would make the audience like him better, but doing so in such a transparent way that it didn't seem genuine. He also talked too much about process rather than policy – shades of Al Gore. Canfield, whose candidacy is backed with a wink and a nod by Senator Brownback, avoided taking any stand if he could help it. His goal is to fundraise like crazy and come through the primaries unscathed. Jennison sounded the most reasonable by default, but that isn't saying much.

Asked about their faves for the 2008 Republican nomination for President, each hemmed and hawed and managed to list every candidate who's making a serious run of it, from McCain (who they all seem to think won't win) to Romney, Huckabee, Allen, and all expressed hope for the "miraculous" outcome of a Brownback victory. The Brownback-chosen Canfield, of course, touted that most heavily, and mentioned that he's got a personal connection to George Allen.

In discussing why they were the one to beat Sebelius, the same dynamic emerged. They are all experienced politicos from outside the system. They all think Sebelius hasn't been a leader. They all think we should cut spending and taxes. Barnett pointed out that he's at the top of the polls, Canfield dropped the names of all the Republican governors from neighboring states that he's consulted with, and Jennison cited his ability to work across the full spectrum of Republicans.

The same dynamic emerged on water in Western Kansas. As we've discussed before, the aquifer under western Kansas is drying up, and that will destroy the economy out there as it gets worse. Jennison had a clear grasp of that issue and talked about the problems, and I agree with his solution of some sort of government enforced policing of water usage. Unfortunately, that completely contradicted the spiel he had just finished on the horrors of government mandates in health care. He seemed comfortably unaware of the contradiction.

Canfield expressed his concerns but didn't really suggest anything different (which was his theme for the evening), and Jennison clumsily transitioned from talking about water issues to talking about natural gas wells in western Kansas, and then a broader discussion of energy policy. What to do about the water that supplies the farms and ranches that are the economy out there remained unclear.

Other things I learned: Dr. Barnett thinks that KU is the "Mayo of the Midwest." Either Rochester, Minnesota is not in the Midwest, or the good Doctor is out of touch with both geography and his own profession. We also learned that adding people to the health insurance market is a bad thing, because it drives costs up. Expect health insurance companies to start splitting themselves apart on learning this news (as they all knew before, expanding the risk pool lowers the margin that companies have to maintain, lowering costs).

Jennison also mentioned that we've "never gotten the potential out of health savings accounts." Certainly not the promised potential, which makes them a poor choice for future attempts at health care reform. All three were vehemently opposed to the Massachusetts health insurance program, decrying the practice of requiring insurance coverage, but never mentioned whether they also oppose mandatory automobile insurance.

Bottom line: Barnett, the current front-runner, isn't ready for prime time, and none are ready for the incumbent governor. Senator Sebelius has a nice ring to it.