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Archive for Wednesday, June 19, 2002

Campaign 2002: Gubernatorial race isn’t only statewide election of interest

June 19, 2002

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— The candidates run statewide, but races for insurance commissioner, state treasurer and secretary of state often receive little attention.

Occasionally, someone asks why one or all three offices are elected at all. That's not likely to happen this year.

All three races are worth watching this year because of incumbents who have higher political aspirations and candidates who come from notable families. Members of both parties also see them as competitive races, particularly because Democrats, long the minority party in Kansas, have fielded strong candidates.

The Kansas Constitution actually set the stage for competitive down-ballot statewide races this year by prohibiting Republican Gov. Bill Graves from seeking a third consecutive term.

Hoping to succeed Graves are State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, a Republican, and Insurance Commissioner Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat. Their decisions to run for governor left their offices open.

The Aug. 6 Republican primaries for both are contested. Democrats have one candidate in each race and are hoping the Republican primaries create enough dissension within the GOP to offset its traditional advantage.

Industry-friendly rhetoric

Three Republicans want to be insurance commissioner. They are Sen. Sandy Praeger, of Lawrence; David Powell, of El Dorado, and Bryan Riley, of Wichita.

Praeger is chairwoman of the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, and Powell is an insurance agent and financial planner. Riley owns a business that sells long-term care insurance and was the 1998 GOP nominee, losing to Sebelius.

Both Riley and Powell contend the Kansas insurance market is not competitive enough and blame what they see as an unduly harsh regulatory environment established by Sebelius, who ended a 96-year GOP dynasty when she unseated Ron Todd in 1994.

Praeger has favored some coverage mandates and supported efforts to guarantee wider coverage of mental health treatment. But she also said, "A good, healthy market will keep premiums down."

The Democrat running for insurance commissioner is House Minority Leader Jim Garner, of Coffeyville, and his campaign so far has contained little of the industry-friendly rhetoric that marks the GOP race. Garner is continuing Sebelius' tradition of not taking contributions from insurance companies or people regulated by the Insurance Department.

Finney's daughter running

In the state treasurer's race, two candidates are seeking the Republican nomination, Sen. Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, and Johnson County Treasurer Dennis Wilson, of Overland Park.

Jenkins is stressing her background as a certified public accountant, while Wilson has aligned himself with Shallenburger, having worked in the treasurer's office before being elected to his county job in 2000.

The lone Democratic candidate is Sally Finney, a public health advocate and lobbyist the eldest daughter of the late Gov. Joan Finney.

The late governor was state treasurer from 1975-90, and her death last year led to an outpouring of memories about her almost legendary ability to connect to ordinary Kansans.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh is seeking re-election this year and faces no primary challenger.

Normally, a secretary of state's decision to run again prevents a strong Democratic challenger from filing.

But Democratic candidate Sen. David Haley, Kansas City, has promised a vigorous campaign.

He is the nephew of "Roots" author Alex Haley.

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