Gov. Joan Finney is mostly to thank -- or blame -- for headlines screaming news about the 1994 gubernatorial race more than a year before Election Day, political observers say.
"One reason is there has been no incumbent governor in recent years who was as unpopular as Joan Finney, and that invites others in," said Russell Getter, a Kansas University assistant professor of political science and government.
Finney's battles with the Kansas Legislature were part of the reason that former House Speaker Marvin Barkis, Louisburg, and State Rep. Joan Wagnon of Topeka announced in May they would challenge Finney in the Democratic primary.
Then, when Finney said on Sept. 3 that she wouldn't run again, U.S. Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., decided to get into the race.
Meanwhile, Republicans expected to be in the race are Secretary of State Bill Graves, former Senate Majority Leader Fred Kerr of Pratt, Lenexa Mayor Rich Becker and Gene Bicknell, a Pittsburg pizza franchise businessman. Meanwhile Nestor Weigand, a Wichita real estate executive, and State Sen. Dick Bond, Overland Park, have also expressed interest.
"The primary reason that candidates are entering the race relatively early has to deal with capturing campaign personnel," Getter said. "The least visible and least powerful candidates will tend to enter early in an attempt to enlist good campaign workers.
"And then, that in some ways causes other candidates to follow suit because if they wait too long to enter the race, they will find there are fewer highly qualified campaign workers available."
Former Democratic Gov. John Carlin, who is expected to announce today he will run for Slattery's congressional seat, said he thought the main difference in this year's race for governor was how early candidates were sniping at each other.
"What is really early is the visibility of the campaign. I think candidates before have started working quietly behind the scenes, but we're already seeing exchanging comments," Carlin said.
For example, both Wagnon and Barkis publicly criticized Slattery this month, saying he didn't know much about state issues. They also criticized him for delaying his formal decision to get into the race and questioned whether he just wanted to use the governor's seat as a stepping stone to the U.S. Senate.
Slattery announced on Sept. 6 he wouldn't run for Congress, but waited until Wednesday to formally announce he would run for governor.
Former state Rep. David Miller, a Eudora Republican who ran for lieutenant governor in 1990, said it was a mistake to begin the gubernatorial campaign so early.
"The public gets tired of long campaigns, and campaigners get tired of long campaigns," Miller said.
Miller said party activists are being prodded to get on board with announced candidates.
"The strategy obviously is to try to preempt the field. And I think it's a very undesirable development," Miller said. "There are candidates out there who have been soliciting support for at least the last six months."
Kim Wells, Lawrence, who is chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, agreed that the races seem to be getting started earlier and earlier.
"People always lament the fact, including politicians, that campaigns get longer and longer," Wells said. "I think the sheer magnitude of the task of trying to organize 105 counties in a state as geographically large as Kansas makes it difficult. No longer can you jump in in the spring."
However, Wells predicted most of the early campaigning will be done at the party level as funds are raised and party activists join campaigns.
"It's sort of an inside ballgame for the next several months," he said. "The public won't see a campaign day in and day out until after the Legislature adjourns next year."
Robert Swanson, executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party, said that with Finney bowing out, the early campaigning is needed for the field to sort itself out.
"With an open seat now there's even more interest in this race and there's a lot of people running who will need the benefit of the extra time to campaign," Swanson said.
And the good news for the voters is there will be more choices, he said.
"It will give the voters more of an opportunity to evaluate each candidate and the issues," Swanson said.