TOPEKA — Olathe businessman Greg Orman returned to Kansas’ political forefront Wednesday by formally launching an exploratory committee for an independent campaign for governor in a move certain to jolt the congested field of Republican and Democratic hopefuls.
On Tuesday, the Topeka Capital-Journal confirmed Orman’s plan to submit required documents to the Secretary of State’s office and begin accepting campaign contributions for what is expected to be a compelling and expensive showdown for governor.
“I would be shocked if he didn’t run. If Greg runs, I’m confident he’ll win,” said Jim Jonas, who managed Orman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2014. “I know he has a great plan and vision for Kansas that he’ll roll out over the course of the campaign — if he gets in.”
The filing, which includes appointment of a campaign treasurer, would appear to mute speculation about whether Orman harbored interest in elective politics after falling short in his independent run for U.S. Senate. Orman lost by 10 points to incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts, but gained national attention by putting an established red-state senator on the ropes until the end.
Orman’s focus in 2018 would be on a campaign for governor featuring the GOP’s Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, businessman Wink Hartman and former state legislators Mark Hutton, Jim Barnett and Ed O’Malley. The Democratic Party’s roster includes state Rep. Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state agriculture secretary Josh Svaty.
Orman’s presence pushes the number of gubernatorial aspirants to 20. It’s a remarkably high number by Kansas standards, but the tally could dwindle as reality sets in prior to the August primary. There are a dozen Republicans, six Democrats and two independents — all male.
Under Kansas law, independent candidates such as Orman must submit a petition to secure access to the general election ballot.
“We need to have the best person we can in the governor’s chair to get us back to the middle,” said Tim Owens, the former state senator who will serve as Orman’s campaign treasurer. “There’s a lot of folks out there who are really tired of the extremist views. It seems like they’re being pushed out. Independents really need a voice, and I think they want to address the same issues moderates in both parties are feeling.”
Gov. Sam Brownback, a two-term conservative Republican, cannot seek re-election in 2018. President Donald Trump nominated Brownback to be international ambassador for religious freedom. If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, the job of governor falls to Colyer.
There are conflicting views about what Orman means to a field of candidates ranging from deeply conservative to mildly liberal. Some pundits say Orman might draw more general election votes from a Democratic nominee. Others suggested he could attract votes from disenchanted moderates across the spectrum with the “fiscally responsible and socially tolerant” message of his U.S. Senate bid.
Orman, a wealthy entrepreneur with a deep business portfolio, said in his 2014 concession speech the campaign against Roberts reflected an awakening of independent sensibilities.
“My firm hope and belief,” he said, “is we sent a message to other aspiring independents out there that this can be done. The voters are with you.”
Orman, 49, can recall a childhood meeting with progressive Minnesota Democrat Hubert Humphrey. In 1986, Orman met President Ronald Reagan at a White House event. Orman, a high school student in Mankato, Minn., had been elected president of Boys Nation by his peers. In Rose Garden remarks by Reagan, the nation’s chief executive referred to Orman as the “president.”
Orman first made his way to Kansas in 1971 when his father moved to Stanley to operate a furniture store. He divided time between Kansas and Minnesota, but settled in Kansas during 1997. Orman was a steady Republican and briefly a Democrat before concluding in 2009 he didn’t have a home in either party.
He expressed displeasure with the nation’s two-party apparatus in his 2016 book, “Declaration of Independents: How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream.” The critique argued savage partisanship and a win-at-all-costs campaigns produced a toxic political culture led by people interested in rigging the system to favor special interests.
“Either by virtue of our blind adherence to partisan politics or by our abdicating our responsibility to participate, we are tacitly turning over our country to this group of self-servants,” Orman wrote. “Changing this won’t be easy.”