It’s likely to be one of those years — first in (practically) 24 years — that Kansas Democrats might want to carry a note into the primary election voting booth to remember the name of their favorite gubernatorial candidate.

For most of the last 24 years, it’s been just checking the box on the only Democrat in the race. Made it pretty simple, and you didn’t have to remember the name, just the office.

Democrats had their last “official” primary election race for governor in 1998, but it was the late Rev. Fred Phelps, of Topeka, and now-Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, who were on the ballot then, and the votes were about 15,000 for Phelps for all the reasons that the anti-gay Topeka minister preached about … and anyone else on the ballot … Sawyer.

Before that, it was the 1994 five-way Democratic primary which saw 7-term former U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., and running mate Carol Sader take the primary easily, later losing in the general.

But this year, for the first time in 20 years, it’s going to be a three-way; four, if you count a high schooler who officially has filed for office. Nobody’s heard from two other Democratic potential candidates, Salinan Robert Klingenberg and Olathe doctor Arden Anderson. While there are two clear leaders — Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and former state rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth and later Topeka — just how they come out is uncertain.

And, nobody yet knows just what the candidacy of former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer will have on what most are predicting to be the split between Kelly and Svaty. There’s always the upset, and either Kelly or Svaty could do something or say something that immediately costs her/him the election, but both are careful and in interviews appear to quietly think through their answers before they utter a response.

Yes, it’s going to be considerably different for Democrats than the good old days of the summer of 1998.

Is it going to be the former lawmaker Svaty who has roots in rural Ellsworth, which is west of Salina, and running with businesswoman Katrina Lewison of Manhattan? Or maybe the current senator with Topeka roots, and running mate Lynn Rogers of Wichita who sits just to her left in the Senate chamber? Or Brewer of Wichita where he was elected, then elected again as mayor, and his running mate former Gardner (that’s Johnson County) Mayor Chris Morrow?

Is geography a big part of the decision? Any chance a Democratic nominee from your area gets your local roads repaired, or at least at the top of the list for repairs? Maybe it’s not geography, though it doesn’t hurt.

If it comes down to experience, well, that comes down to experience doing what?

Is it experience running a government that deals closely with its constituents—we’re thinking the mayors here — or does it come down to experience in state government? That’s probably the Kelly and the Svaty teams. Svaty served four and a half terms in the House before Gov. Mark Parkinson named him Secretary of Agriculture in 2009, and he was out the day that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback took office. Things have changed a lot in the last eight years.

Kelly? Four terms in the Senate, starting under Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius and later Parkinson. And she’s been there in the eight-year Brownback/Gov. Jeff Colyer regime. The question, for Democrats, is whether she can use the Brownback/Colyer years to her advantage.

Wonder how this is going to work out …who remembers what … and their names.

Martin Hawver is publisher of

Hawver’s Capitol Report