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Archive for Monday, May 20, 1996

T COUNT HER OUT

May 20, 1996

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A Joan Finney victory could soundly demoralize the state GOP in a way that no other event could.

Associated Press Writer

Topeka -- Political insiders made derisive comments when Joan Finney announced her intentions. That eccentric woman couldn't possibly win, they said.

It was 1990, and they were dead wrong. Voters elected Joan Finney governor.

Those same insiders were saying the same things about Joan Finney last week, when she expressed interest in being a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat Bob Dole is vacating in June.

After their initial shock, they chuckled and said she can't win. One Republican even suggested she would get ``the humiliation she so richly deserves'' if she runs.

But no one should discount Finney's chances.

``Joan Finney would be a very formidable candidate,'' said U.S. Rep. Sam Brownback, who is seeking the Republican nomination for Dole's seat.

Finney's announcement caught many political activists, even Democrats, by surprise. The 71-year-old populist was thought to be out of politics for good, having passed up the chance to run for a second term as governor in 1994.

She had not been visible. Earlier this month, she professed not to be interested in politics, saying, ``I've been too busy fishing.''

But her desire to run for the U.S. Senate makes sense.

First, she began her career in politics working as an aide to Republican Sen. Frank Carlson. She worked in his office for 18 years, and later was state treasurer for five terms.

She considers Carlson her mentor and displayed a portrait of him proudly when she occupied Cedar Crest, the governor's mansion. Carlson was governor before he served in the Senate.

In addition, she might want to run to silence critics who said she did not seek re-election as governor because she was afraid of losing.

Finally, there is the job itself.

``I think if you have a public service bone in your body and you're breathing, you have an interest,'' said state Rep. Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, a close adviser to Gov. Bill Graves.

Yes, she would face obstacles.

Some polls near the end of her term indicated a majority of Kansans did not think she was doing a good job as governor. Stories about some of her more notable controversies as governor would surface; for example, her appointing a convicted child molester to a job collecting abortion statistics.

She also would have to get an organization in place rather quickly and raise some money before the November election.

But she also would likely get help from the national Democratic Party, because the opportunity to win Dole's seat would be too good to pass up. In fact, a Finney victory could soundly demoralize the state GOP in a way that no other event could.

Finney would stress populist themes and remind Kansans that she fought for initiative and referendum, a system under which voters could enact laws and put constitutional questions on the ballot without going to the Legislature.

Her candidacy also would appeal to some conservative Republicans, because of her anti-abortion views.

She has a talent for connecting with ordinary people -- factory workers, farmers, housewives, janitors and waitresses. She listens when she meets people, and often can remember tidbits about their lives if she has encountered them before.

``I love to campaign,'' Finney said. ``I just keep campaigning even when I'm not running for office.''

And finally, there is Finney's record.

She won statewide office six times. No other active politician -- not even Dole -- can make the same claim.

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