Bill Graves is what most citizens picture as the ideal type of person to hold a top elective government office.
He is honest and he is smart. He conducts himself in a manner that reflects credit on his state and is well-respected by his peers. He makes a fine physical appearance and he has a pretty, smart and able spouse along with a darling daughter. He is not a liar, a boozer or a woman-chaser.
Along with this, he enjoys one of the highest, if not THE highest, approval rating any governor has ever had from the citizens of Kansas. He was elected to the governor's office two times with wide margins of victory.
All of these attributes should combine to help Graves be one of the truly outstanding governors in the history of Kansas. His many friends and admirers certainly hope so, and if he does leave office enjoying the appreciation and respect of his fellow Kansans, it will mean he has done a top-flight job for the state and the people of the state.
Right now, however, it seems to many that the popular Graves has not taken full advantage of his popularity and the comfortable majorities he enjoys in the Kansas House and Senate. He would seem to have the opportunity to make or recommend many bold moves that could place Kansas in prime position to meet the opportunities, as well as the demands, of this new century.
It is puzzling to many that Graves seems reluctant to take such action. It is not likely he will be seeking any elected office in the immediate future. He cannot seek another consecutive term as governor, and it is highly doubtful he would want to challenge Pat Roberts for a term in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Sam Brownback's term is not up until 2005. It also would seem out of the picture for him to challenge any of the Kansas representatives in the U.S. House.
Many thought Graves might be picked by President Bush for a Cabinet position, but for one reason or another, Graves is not sitting around the table in Washington when Bush has a Cabinet meeting. Maybe Bush called and invited the popular Salina native and Graves declined the invitation. Maybe Bush didn't call.
There's the possibility Bush might like to nominate Graves for an ambassadorship but so far there haven't been any suggestions this might be the case.
With no elective office in sight, Graves shouldn't have to worry about stepping on toes or making some people mad. He should realize he has the rather rare opportunity to propose and push almost anything because he will be out of office and doesn't have to worry about a voter backlash.
This all is easy for someone in Lawrence to speculate on and something else for a sitting governor to implement.
Nevertheless, it seems Graves has the opportunity to go down in the history books as a governor who had the vision and political courage to push his state and its citizens into the forefront as they face coming challenges and opportunities.
Why not try to make Kansas a national leader, a state other states would like to emulate in terms of how it has dealt with difficult situations. Why settle for being average or mediocre? Give Kansans a reason to be proud of what their state is accomplishing and the opportunities being opened up for fellow citizens?
There are many problems or challenges if that is the term some wish to use. The population of the United States is going to increase tremendously in the coming years. Washington officials have suggested that America's population could total between 450 and 500 million by 2050. Where are these people going to live and how much of this growth will take place in Kansas?
In this writer's opinion, water is this country's most precious natural resource. What are Kansans going to do about vast increases in the demand for water and the accompanying need to treat what water is available? What, for example, are Lawrence and Douglas County residents going to do to meet expected water needs in coming years when the county's population total could easily hit or surpass 200,000? Where's the water coming from when cities along the Kaw also are going to have greater demands? Cities to the south want to divert water from the Kansas River before it reaches Lawrence, and Clinton Lake only has so much storage.
Couldn't Graves make future water needs one of this state's top priorities and, in so doing, help ensure the state's vitality and, in a way, survivability 50 years from now?
How about taking a strong stand on far better funding for education kindergarten through 12, as well as for colleges and universities? So far, too many politicians have been pussy-footing around the education question. At one time, Kansans pointed with pride to the level of state funding directed toward education. That's not the case today.
Maybe it's time for Graves to call for some tough, demanding tax increases to fund programs that have not been financed to the proper levels or to start new programs.
The environment is going to be under terrific pressure in the coming years with the sure-to-come increases in the state's population. How can Kansas protect its environment and create more and better parks and recreation sites?
If the population is to grow, what could Kansas do to attract and hold the best and the brightest of our young people, as well as providing attractive job possibilities for top-flight people from other parts of the country? How can the state develop more schools for those seeking skills in various technical jobs and trades?
There are so many challenges, as well as opportunities, for Kansas and its people. Perhaps it would be a good idea for the governor to consider bringing together a group of talented, successful individuals who would act as futurists or visionaries. These people could provide the governor a list of challenges and opportunities for the state. No limits should be placed on their thinking and vision other than to try to project what this state is likely to face in the years to come 25 and 50 years from now, not a year or two.
With such a list, the governor could rank the needs and opportunities and, if so inclined, recommend action to try to solve or take advantage of these matters. Neither Kansas, nor any other state, can afford to wait until problems arise to try to come up with a quick-fix solution.
Now is the time to think ahead and Bill Graves is in the position and has the relatively rare opportunity to get the people of Kansas thinking about the future. He could propose, or maybe even demand, action be initiated NOW rather than wait until the odds of solving these challenges and opportunities are reduced to a marginal level.
For various reasons and circumstances, such opportunities do not come along very often for any governor. Graves does enjoy this rare moment and it would be great for him and for the state if he would seize this once-in-a-political-lifetime occasion to take bold, imaginative actions for the future betterment to the state and its people. Why hold back?