Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Kansas Governor's race

As the legislative session winds down, the formal campaigning winds up. Everyone was trying to position themselves and show off with actions symbolic or meaningful, but now it comes down to the bare-knuckled part of the campaigning.

Obviously the legislative hearings over the judge who spoke to a state senator will play a role. Judge Nuss, who is hearing the legal challenge to the school financing levels in Kansas, discussed the details of a proposal with Senators Morris (R) and Brungardt (R). This violated Nuss's ethical obligations, and he deserves to get into trouble. Shortly afterward, the Senate Republicans announced a $500 million plan, and a few days later, Morris met with Senator Hensley (D) and Governor Sebelius to discuss the plan. No one has alleged that that meeting was improper. For Nuss to converse about the case with a senator was improper, and the Republican senators at the meeting shouldn't have brought spreadsheets to discuss with the judge, but nothing would bar the senator from discussing school finance, even what the judge told him, with the Governor. Nonetheless, the legislature plans to call various people, including the Governor, in to answer questions. It'll be political theater, but is more likely to backfire.

The governor's greatest weakness is that she has no signature achievement. She managed to turn the state's finances around and pushed hard on expanding slot machines to bring in more revenue, but that went nowhere. WIth a heavily Republican legislature, her best chance for getting a proposal through has been to keep her support for it quiet. That's the only way to avoid scaring off moderate Republicans.

Calling her out to talk about her work behind the scenes will give her a great opportunity to reveal how much influence she really may have had on the central political issue of the past few years. It's difficult to imagine a way that she could have done anything improper, but giving her a chance to talk about what she did right only works to her advantage.

Meanwhile, the anonymous Republicans at KGR claim to have a peek inside the Republican candidates' war chests. In short, not much there. Assuming this is what they raised since the December filings, this leaves the best-funded campaign with 10% of what the Governor has raised.

The other big issue that will come into play in coming days will be the selection of a new Lieutenant Governor. Whoever the Governor selects is likely to be her successor in 4 years, and she's in a position to raise someone unexpected to prominence. WIth Jill Docking out of the race, Steve Kraske is hearing that former Republican chairman Mark Parkinson be invited onto the ticket. He's been part of party-switching Attorney General candidate Paul Morrison's campaign, and Kansas RINO points out that he pulled resources away from Adam Taff's 2002 campaign against Dennis Moore in order to push Tim Shallenburger's race against Sebelius.

I've wondered why more moderate Republicans haven't been switching parties, and it looks like I can stop wondering. WIth a party-switching Lt. Gov. and a party-switching AG, a lot of voters and elected officials will feel like they have permission to rethink their party identity.

Still, I'd like to see a Democrat raised up to more prominence, and keeping someone from WIchita on the ticket would be smart, too. There's an opportunity here to take a chance, given the Governor's high approval ratings and strong standing in head-to-head polls. Picking a moderate Republican will solidify her position, but picking a Democrat is the right thing to do for the future of the Party and for her own future in national politics.