Well, they’re now officially off to the campaign.
That’s basically what happened this weekend, with the annual summer Democratic convention getting the message that Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, is going to be a candidate without the adrenalin of Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach and without the attacks on incumbents of independent candidate Greg Orman.
That’s the general message that Democratic insiders — those who are willing to spend two days on internal party activities — got this weekend in Wichita.
It’s a rather low-key, businesslike campaign Kelly promised, with emphasis on telling Kansans the policy choices she thinks they are likely to want, such as continued adequate financing of public schools, expanding access to health care to the poor through Medicaid (KanCare) expansion, and less cumbersome access to ballots.
A lot didn’t happen at Demofest in Wichita. There was no public endorsement of Kelly by the two most prominent candidates who fought her for the gubernatorial nomination. Former Wichita (that’s hometown) Mayor Carl Brewer and former Rep./Kansas Secretary Agriculture Josh Svaty didn’t show up for that classic “we lost, and we support Kelly” photograph that would have sealed the party support for Kelly. Might have been that she won so dramatically, with Kelly’s 52 percent of the Democratic primary vote to Brewer’s 20 percent and Svaty’s 18 percent.
But the clear message that Kelly sent — in her effort to create that “Blue Tide” for Democrats to boost their number on the public payroll — is that she’s going to talk about running Kansas government. She’s talking basic duties of government, not flashy issues like immigration or driving around in Jeeps with machine guns on them, as does Kobach, or just tossing out experienced public workers and administrators, as is Orman.
That might make the fall interesting because Kansans tend to be — and like to remind others — that they are businesslike. Take care of the basic state government obligations to its citizens. That’s the job of the governor.
But, does that sell, err, get votes?
The gubernatorial campaign took an expected but so far relatively un-definable step last week when Orman was granted a slot on the November ballot. He’s talked about the “insiders” of the two major political parties running government, leaving the unaffiliated, or maybe just not very interested, at their will. It’s been mostly Republicans in recent years with that control, but he’s not assessed very publicly just what a governor without the backing of either of the largest groups of voters can accomplish.
And Kobach has continually talked about the Supreme Court — not elected legislators — determining just what is “adequate” in state aid for K-12 schools from border to border, high property valuation and low property valuation districts.
Kobach’s incessant campaign slamming what he calls loose immigration policy hasn’t really been defined for those who in urban areas need roofs reshingled, or in rural areas fences built, and in the livestock industry cattle reduced to pan-sized cuts of meat. Yes, those are industries in which immigration is economically necessary.
So, does Kelly turn the basic business of government into a key issue that will see Kansans look for a journeyman governor who knows from the inside — and the budget — just how state government works? It’s going to put a new, very basic, not-flashy platform before voters. And the real issue is, will it sell?
Now there are other Democrats on the ballot seeking statewide positions — insurance commissioner, treasurer, secretary of state — but those aren’t jobs that tend to galvanize voters. Anyone leave your car out in the heat to vote for state treasurer?
This might become a relatively dull, technical campaign. Or…not…
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report.