Recently, when the moderate "establishment" wing of the Kansas Republican was casting about for a gubernatorial candidate, Pete McGill, a mover and shaker in the party the past 40 years, tried to convince David Adkins he should seek the office.
"He wouldn't do it," McGill said. "He wants to take his time."
Instead, Adkins is running for attorney general.
Adkins, 41, has been viewed as an up-and-comer for statewide office by moderate party leaders almost since the beginning of his career.
While still at Kansas University law school he was an intern with then-state Sen. Wint Winter, a Lawrence Republican.
"David Adkins no doubt had the best combination of intelligence and wit and humor of any intern I ever had in the Legislature or in the law office," said Winter, an attorney and Adkins supporter.
Adkins' first job after leaving law school was at the Johnson County law firm headed by former Gov. Robert Bennett. Bennett, Adkins said, was a political mentor to him.
Growing up in the GOP
Adkins' father was a highway patrolman; his mother a Republican Party activist. Adkins said because he helped his mother at GOP outings at county fairs and political forums, his heroes as a child were Kansas politicians, and he knew early on he wanted to follow in their footsteps.
"I was around Bob Dole, Keith Sebelius and later Alf Landon. Those folks were my heroes," Adkins said. "I couldn't relate to Len Dawson or George Brett. Sports wasn't my thing. So, politics was."
Adkins' entire career, much like that of his opponent and contemporary Phill Kline, seems built around gaining and keeping public office.
The respect Adkins paid party leaders was returned. But as the favorite son of the party's moderate faction, the Leawood resident also serves as a lightning rod for resentments harbored by the party's right wing toward its historical power brokers.
"I think Adkins is that sort of country club Republican who sees politics as simply a way to advance his career," said Tim Carmody, a Kline supporter who served with Adkins in the Kansas House before leaving public office in 2000. "It's not the GOP Club; its the GOB Club the Good Old Boys Club."
It's widely known the abortion issue has cleaved the Republican Party. Less known is that many of the party's most influential conservatives resent what they view as the moderates' ongoing efforts to exclude them from decision making, using patronage powers to help defeat their philosophical foes. At times, the factional rivalry resembles class warfare.
"I grew up in Wyandotte County and came from a working family, and I just don't run with the same dogs Adkins runs with," Carmody said. "David probably came from very similar middle class background to that I and Phill came from. But he's chosen to throw in with his handlers who have been grooming him. I think the powers that be don't like Phill's type because they're more dedicated to their buddies and their money than they are to principles."
Adkins has the manner and bearing that seem almost certain to inflame class resentments. He's 6 feet, 2 inches and always well groomed. He often wore expensive tassled loafers in a Kansas House where ostrich-skin cowboy boots were considered more the norm for fancy footwear. He's articulate, and was considered one of the chamber's better public speakers and debaters even by critics who otherwise dismissed his effectiveness as a legislator. Though he came from middle-class background, Central Casting could easily drop him into a TV ad as the spokesman for a brokerage firm or luxury sedan.
Theater and comedy
One of his hobbies is amateur theatrics. He was a staple in the Legislature's follies shows and once played the lead in a community theater production of "The Music Man."
"I don't know anyone who hates him," said Mike Blumenthal, a close, personal friend who has known Adkins about 12 years. "My belief is if they do not like him it's because of political difference of opinion. The only reason to not like the guy would be jealousy for his success. What can you say bad about a guy from humble beginnings who goes on to receive the Truman Scholarship at KU and goes on to work for the governor's law firm?"
Virtually all Adkins' friends contacted by the Journal-World commented on his sense of humor, which has put him in demand as an after-dinner speaker.
But conservatives who knew him in the House say he can seem aloof or distant.
Adkins has been endorsed by the Republicans the conservatives despise. Most notable among them is Dick Bond, the former Senate president whose network of business and political associates, conservatives say, has too much sway at the Statehouse and with major Kansas City philanthropies and Johnson County municipalities.
Adkins' credentials and experience, matched against Kline's, are hardly distinguishable. Both earned undergraduate degrees in political science. Both graduated from KU law school about the same time. Both have spent much, if not most, of their adult energies either in public office or gaining it. Each served in the Kansas House as chairmen of the taxation and appropriations committees. Adkins probably practiced a bit more law than Kline. But both men admit their legislative responsibilities have hurt their law practices.
Misuse of office
Steve McAllister, dean of the KU law school, said he knew both men, though he knew Adkins better and counted him a personal friend.
"I wouldn't say I personally know anything that would disqualify either one," McAllister said. "Both are capable and ethical. In this day and age, having someone who could work with the Legislature is almost essential and, of course, both David and Phill have legislative experience.
"Certainly, neither one of them have had careers of the lengthy traditional sort of law practice. Both got into politics very early."
McAllister, who is careful not to endorse a candidate, said the public should watch the candidates for display of the proper "temperament" and indications they would be thoughtful and even-handed in their decision making.
Kline hasn't laid into Adkins with the cronyism charges more vocally expressed by his allies, but he does sometimes allude to the conservatives' concern that Adkins would misuse the office.
"I think it is a trend across the nation that state's attorneys general use the office to punish political enemies and reward friends," Kline said.
Adkins said his opponents, for ideological reasons, have consistently attacked his character and mischaracterized his votes and actions.
He promises a fair process for awarding outside legal work through the AG's office.
"I have talked consistently about how outside firms will receive their business," Adkins said. "That includes creating a high-level advisory group composed of former law school deans and judges to assist in reviewing law firms who wish to do business with the state. I don't think anyone wants someone picked strictly by lowest bid. But I'm smart enough to understand that the perception of patronage is not good and the actual use of politics in distributing state business is bad lawyering."
Adkins has gone beyond the normal level of candidate disclosure. He's made available to newspapers the tax returns jointly filed by him and his wife, Lisa, for the past five years. She has made significantly more money than him. Last year, they reported adjusted gross income of about $153,000. He also has distributed copies of his high school and college transcripts and his health records.
Adkins has taken heat for a $250,000 state grant awarded to YouthFriends, a Kansas City mentoring program headed by his wife. The grant was from the Kansas Youth Authority when Adkins was the group's chairman. The grant was noncompetitive. The Center for Public Integrity did an article about the grant and used it as a Kansas example of bad government in its "50 State Project."
Conservative columnist John Altevogt, a Wyandotte County resident, sued to get information about how the grant money was used. Kansas courts tossed out his case because YouthFriends' records were kept in Missouri, outside the reach of Kansas' open records law.
Adkins said he didn't vote on the grant award and didn't unduly sway the panel's decision. But the grant did nothing to assuage conservatives' concern that the party's "liberal" wing takes care of its own and hides its tracks doing so.
Adkins also reported himself to the Supreme Court disciplinarian after relatives of a deceased client complained about his billings. Adkins was admonished for not properly documenting his fee arrangements with the woman's survivors.
Adkins said if he is elected he would like to be known as "someone who didn't take themselves too seriously, someone who made a real effort to reach out to those who would be surprised by the fact I reached out to them.
"I feel the AG is someone who listens to viewpoints, gathers facts, then applies the law fairly. My mission would be to essentially have people think of me as they think of Nancy Kassebaum. You may have disagreed with her, but you always felt you were treated fairly with courtesy and respect."