TOPEKA — Olathe entrepreneur Greg Orman officially launched an independent gubernatorial campaign today emphasizing the necessity of placing the modern era's raucous partisan politics aside to sustain policies delivering economic growth, access to health care and government transparency to Kansans.
Orman catapulted to political prominence four years ago during a nonpartisan bid to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts. He’s the first of two-dozen aspirants in the 2018 governor’s race to step away from the exploratory phase and jump in with both feet.
“At the end of the day,” he said in an interview Tuesday, “me being politically independent is not about ideology. It’s about putting my state and my country ahead of a political party. It’s about using facts and common sense to solve problems, and not just clinging to rigid ideological solutions, even when they’re not working. And, importantly, it’s about being free from obligations to party bosses and special interests.”
Orman, 49, raised $452,000 during 26 days in December after setting up the exploratory committee. His Dec. 31 campaign finance report shows more receipts from in-state contributors than every Democratic candidate and more contributions from individual Kansas donors than all but two Republicans. He’s sworn off donations from political action committees and lobbying organizations.
The Republican and Democratic parties in Kansas have been looking over their shoulders and speculating about Orman’s intentions. In the deeply red state of Kansas, some political pundits believe a well-financed campaign by Orman could manufacture a three-person race in November that derails the Democratic nominee and makes it easier for a Republican nominee to prevail.
Orman said antiquated theories by fans of a two-party system were meant to discredit independent thinkers and third-party candidacies. Politicians holding to party labels don’t appreciate Kansas voters are weary of government that doesn’t serve them adequately, he said.
“There are more independent voters in Kansas than there are Democrats,” Orman said. “We will have the resources. We will have the message that will appeal to Democrats, Republicans and independents. Ultimately, we will win this race.”
He said an independent governor would be free to champion the most progressive ideas and bring together the most talented staff.
“I’ll be able to embrace the best ideas from either party,” he said. “Maybe more importantly, we’ll be able to get the best people. What you’ve seen in the past, certainly in the past seven years, is we tend to make appointments on the basis of political loyalty and ideological conformity.”
Presumed front runners in this year's GOP gubernatorial primary include Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, former state legislators Mark Hutton, Jim Barnett and Ed O’Malley, and businessman Wink Hartman. The Democratic primary features Sen. Laura Kelly, Rep. Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former agriculture secretary Josh Svaty.
Orman has a colorful political lineage. In 1986, he was elected president of Boys Nation and met Republican President Ronald Reagan in the White House’s Rose Garden. He graduated from Princeton University and worked on presidential campaigns for George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.
In the past, he’s been a registered Democrat and Republican. Orman’s grandfather, Fred Gates Sr., was a member of the inner-circle of Democrat Hubert Humphrey, who was vice president in the 1960s.
In 2016, Orman published a book, “A Declaration of Independents,” about the two-party system's stranglehold on American politics.
Orman said the state’s next governor was obligated to propel the state toward robust job growth and respond to demographic realities of an aging population.
”We’ve had a series of tactics. We’re going to do a tax cut here and maybe provide some incentives there, but we really haven’t thought about it and said, ‘What are Kansans’ natural advantages? What are those things we can leverage?’ ”
He said the state’s access to railroads, renewable energy and low-cost manufacturing inputs could make Kansas the nation’s intermodal manufacturing capital. Local and state government can collaborate to break regulatory bottlenecks that inhibit that type of business expansion, he said.
“We need to say to localities in our state, ‘If you’re willing to agree to streamline this process to allow us to develop these industries that are going to create jobs and economic opportunity in Kansas, we will target economic development dollars to you.’ ”
Orman said the Legislature should adopt legislation expanding eligibility for Medicaid to serve needs of low-income workers. Tens of thousands of Kansans and the state’s hospital network can benefit from a fiscally responsible revision of eligibility, he said.
He said that as governor, the objective would be to make state government in Kansas the most transparent in the country.
Orman grew up in Minnesota and became a Kansan by virtue of working in his father’s business in Stanley. He’s married to Sybil, a former public school teacher. They have two daughters, Imogen, 2, and Sigrid, born seven weeks ago.
“I want Kansas to be a place where my two daughters feel inspired to build their lives. That’s something that a lot of Kansans share with me.”