Robert Harder's record is one that won't soon be broken. He has professional memories of nine Kansas governors.
The retired Topeka resident worked directly for five governors Republican and Democrat running the Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, the state welfare agency, or the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. The first governor he served was Bob Docking. The last was Joan Finney.
Before and after his tenure as a Cabinet official as a legislator, lobbyist or activist he was close enough to observe four other governors at work.
With Kansans try to sort through the campaign statements of those competing to be the next governor, the Journal-World asked Harder to share his unique perspective on those who have held the office the past 45 years.
Harder is a soft-spoken, white-haired former bureaucrat schooled as a minister. He took pains to emphasize the positive when discussing individual governors. Nonetheless, he has firm opinions about the qualifications needed to be an effective governor.
Bill Graves, 1995-present
"What do you say?" Harder said. "Here's a guy with a great deal of political capital who was unwilling to use it to make sure the state stayed solvent during his administration. This is one nice guy. Bill Graves probably never says a hurtful word to anyone. But he didn't understand what it took to make the critical operation of state government work, particularly when you look at the role of the executive and the Legislature."
Joan Finney, 1991-95
"She and Bob Docking were in a class all their own in terms of relating to people. Joan Finney would give her undivided attention to the person she was talking to in that moment. To be good, a governor needs that ability to relate to the people they're serving."
Mike Hayden, 1987-91
"He was very much inner-directed. He had a strong sense of where he wanted to go and at times where he wanted to go wasn't politically correct. I think he was not always well advised by his staff. When I worked for him I wasn't always sure that he had a sense of knowing when to compromise."
John Carlin, 1979-87
Surrounded himself with bright people with government experience, Harder says.
"So, he more than any other governor worked through policy ideas in a more complete way. Because of that kind of staff, the ideas he presented to the Legislature had a real touch of realism because they had gone through the fire. Carlin felt strongly that public policy needed to be carefully worked."
Robert Bennett, 1975-79
"He had a complete and total understanding of the working of state government. Better than any other governor I worked for he had a vision of where he wanted to move government."
Bennett was an attorney who served in the Kansas Senate before he was governor. Harder said Bennett had the best understanding of any governor of the interactions among the executive, legislative and judicial branches.
Robert Docking, 1967-75
"One ingredient you need is a keen sense of financial understanding," Harder said. "To me that was represented by Bob Docking. He had a good idea of how the budget fit together."
Harder said Docking's banking background, university training and experience helping his father George Docking as governor gave Robert Docking an unrivaled grasp of the state budget.
Bill Avery, 1965-67
"His was a very commanding personality," Harder said. "When he would walk into a room you had the sense he was going to take charge of that room. To me that was an ingredient necessary to a governor. They must convey that they have that ability to take charge of whatever situation they find themselves in."
John Anderson, 1961-65
Harder was a Democrat in the Kansas House when Anderson was governor. He remembers Anderson as being very effective working with legislators. Anderson would regularly lunch with committee chairmen and leaders from the House and Senate. Republicans held heavy majorities in both chambers.
But Anderson "had a willingness to talk to and involve as much as possible members of the minority party. I had the feeling he was a governor willing to accept that Democrats had a contribution to make."
George Docking, 1957-61
"He had strong thoughts about what he thought ought to happen in state government, and he was immovable. If the ideas clicked, they clicked. If they didn't, they didn't. He also had a strong budget sense. But he was more extreme than someone like Mike Hayden in terms of just being adamant about his position. The several contacts I had with him were mostly in the area of civil rights. I had the feeling once he took a position that was it."