Democrat Laura Kelly all but set the field in the Kansas governor’s race Thursday by picking fellow state Sen. Lynn Rogers as her running mate.
Among the leading contenders, only Republican former state Sen. Jim Barnett has yet to complete his ticket. He’s expected to do that a day ahead of next week’s June 1 filing deadline.
Kelly’s choice of Rogers, a longtime member of the Wichita school board before winning a Senate seat vacated by a Republican incumbent in 2016, signals an intention to make education a cornerstone of her campaign.
“His commitment to our schools, students and staff make him the right choice to help lead Kansas at this critical time,” Kelly said at an announcement ceremony staged with Topeka High School serving as a scenic and topical backdrop.
As a senator and school board member, Kelly said Rogers has “fought tirelessly to reverse the damage of the (state’s tax cut) experiment and give all our children the opportunities they deserve.”
As the top Democrat on the Senate’s budget writing committee, Kelly has long railed against the income and business tax cuts that Republican former Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through the Legislature in 2012.
Kelly and others charge that those cuts precipitated a state revenue crisis that forced repeated cuts in higher education, highways and social services and the issuance of $1 billion in bonds backed by the state pension fund.
“After years of crisis and turmoil, it’s time for us to elect a governor who will be a champion for our families and invest in the priorities we share — especially public schools,” Rogers said.
If Kelly wins the Democratic nomination, she would likely face either a Republican nominee who must defend Brownback’s policies — former lieutenant governor, now Gov. Jeff Colyer — or one who has promised a new round of tax cuts if elected — Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
The Kelly/Rogers ticket is long on experience. She’s a 68-year-old lawmaker in her fourth term and he’s a retired banker soon to turn 60 in the middle of his first term at the Statehouse.
“We are at a time of crisis,” Kelly said. “We need someone who can go into that governor’s office and go to work on day one to fix this state.”
Their main primary opponents are taking a different tact.
Former legislator and state agriculture secretary Josh Svaty, 38, and Katrina Lewison, 40, are selling their youth. They’re also hoping that Lewison’s background — a West Point graduate who led a Black Hawk helicopter platoon in Iraq — appeals to voters looking for fresh faces.
“This is less of a policy primary and more of a personality primary,” Svaty said Wednesday after paying the filing fee to get on the August ballot.
Both tickets check multiple boxes with voters, said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty. But, he said, while Rogers is “solid,” Lewison is “exciting.”
“Oh, she’s a huge asset,” he said. “What a find.”
On Tuesday, another contender for the Democratic nomination, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer, named another former mayor as his running mate. Brewer said that Chris Morrow, from Gardner, “has shown again and again that he listens to the community her serves.”
Morrow, a Navy veteran who lost a bid to unseat Republican state Sen. Julia Lynn in 2016, is the vice-chair of the Johnson County Democratic Party.
On the Republican side, Beatty said Kobach’s choice of former rival Wink Hartman seems a good fit. Hartman, a wealthy Wichita businessman, gives the ticket geographic and private-sector experience balance, Beatty said.
Colyer made his choice in February. Shortly after Brownback’s departure for an ambassador’s post in the Trump administration moved him into the governor’s office, Colyer installed Tracey Mann to replace him as lieutenant governor.
Mann, who lives in Salina but works for a Kansas City-based commercial real estate firm, ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in 2010. His campaign for the 1st District seat was sidetracked when he called on then-President Barack Obama to prove he was an American citizen.
Mann called his foray into birther politics a mistake.
“I had a football coach one time that said ‘when you make a mistake you don’t make excuses and you move on,’” he said when Colyer appointed him lieutenant governor. “I’ve moved on from that.”
A recent poll showing Kobach and Colyer in a near tie with nearly half of GOP voters undecided indicates that Barnett and Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer are still factors, Beatty said.
“This race will be decided by the undecideds,” he said.
The poll, conducted by Remington Research Group, a GOP polling firm based in Kansas City, put Colyer’s support at 29 percent, with Kobach at 27 percent.
Barnett, the only moderate in the Republican race, drew support from 9 percent of respondents while 5 percent said they favored Selzer.
On Monday, Selzer named Goodland businesswoman Jenifer Sanderson as his running mate. She’s the owner of a Sonic Drive-In franchise and a past chair of the board that oversees the Kansas Chamber’s leadership program.
Sanderson, Selzer said in a campaign news release, “brings a small business owner’s experience to fixing an overreaching government, a wealth of financial management education and a mother’s commitment to a better world for the next generation.”
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.