Greg Orman sees an opportunity to break the shackles of a two-party stranglehold on Kansas government, where he says partisan playbooks perpetuate long-standing problems.
In a conversation for Capitol Insider, the podcast of The Topeka Capital-Journal that examines state politics, the Olathe businessman says he entered this year’s gubernatorial race so he could put Kansas on a different path.
“I think most Kansans intuitively understand that over the last 10 years, something has gone very wrong in Kansas,” Orman said. “I believe what happens over the next five years is really going to determine the path our state’s on for the next several decades. And I want to create a Kansas where my two daughters, and all our sons and daughters and grandchildren, feel inspired to build their lives.”
Orman is hoping to become the first independent governor of Kansas since John Geary was appointed to oversee the territory in 1856. He won’t appear on the primary ballot on Aug. 7, but by collecting enough signatures — despite a new campaign that encourages residents to unsign his petition — Orman can face off against the Republican and Democratic nominees the general election race.
He recognizes the difficulty of running as an independent, but Orman said it puts him in a position to serve Kansas unlike any other candidate. Rather than fill his cabinet based on party loyalty, for instance, he would be free to make appointments based on competence and embrace the best ideas regardless of where they come from.
“In politics today, so often, an idea advanced by one side is dead on arrival with the other,” Orman said. “As an independent, I don’t particularly care who the author of an idea is. I care whether or not it’s a good idea.”
He pointed to the failure by Republicans to criticize President Donald Trump for waging a trade war that Orman says is risky for a Kansas economy that relies heavily on exports, especially in agriculture and aviation sectors.
“If you’re shackled to a party,” Orman said, “you’re not in a position to put your loyalty where your loyalty needs to be, and that’s to the people of Kansas.”
The big problem with the 2012 tax cuts, Orman said, was the failure by former Gov. Sam Brownback to do something different when it became obvious the plan wasn’t working. He also said the supply-side plan was patently unfair.
Orman praised the Kansas Supreme Court for sending a clear message on how to fix new legislation that adds money to public schools, instructing lawmakers to adjust for inflation. The best way to cover the cost, he said, is to grow the state’s economy.
To do that, he said, he would follow the steps he would take if he were expanding a business. The first step: Ask, what are my strengths?
Because Kansas is the geographic center of the country, Orman said, it should be the distribution capital, taking advantage of railroads and agriculture.
Another step would be encouraging communities to enter into compacts to streamline regulations. The goal is to give businesses certainty about when they can become productive.
To address workforce needs, he said, the state should do more to help kids on pathways to professional or technical jobs. He also would invest more in the university system while working to align research with industry needs.
He also wants to make the governor’s office more accessible to everyday people. As it is, the second floor of the Statehouse is metaphorically walled off to the extent that even lawmakers from opposing parties are shut out.
As governor, he promised to empower the people of Kansas to take back their government. He said he would hold weekly office hours for people to visit or call. He also would participate in monthly town hall forums and have a weekly breakfast for all legislators.
“I actually embrace intellectual conflict,” Orman said. “I do it in all my businesses. I think it’s the best way to get to the right answer. And so I want to make sure the governor’s office is open and available to hear different points of view.”