Archive for Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Shallenburger leaves meeting empty-handed

September 4, 2002


— Call it the courtship of Gov. Bill Graves.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Shallenburger met privately with Graves for an hour Tuesday but didn't get what he sought  an endorsement from the top Republican in state government and the unofficial head of the moderate wing of the state GOP.

Republicans from President Bush on down have thrown their support behind Shallenburger, a conservative Republican who handily won the contentious four-way Aug. 6 primary.

But Graves is playing hard to get.

"This is not something we are going to rush into," Graves said after the meeting, his first with Shallenburger since the primary.

Neither Graves nor Shallenburger would say what the hang-up was, but Graves, prevented by term limits from seeking re-election, and Shallenburger have often crossed swords.

Many political observers say Shallenburger, when he was House speaker, helped engineer tax cuts that were bigger than Graves wanted. And Shallenburger has been critical of the nearly $300 million tax increase Graves recently signed into law.

Graves also has been critical of campaign statements by Shallenburger, now state treasurer, that the state's budget problems can be solved by cutting waste in government. Graves has spoken of the need to protect public school funding, while Shallenburger has said schools could sustain a budget cut of as much as 3 percent without suffering harm.

After meeting with Graves, Shallenburger said his comments on schools may have been misinterpreted.

"We have not said we want to cut education," he said. "We have said we want to hold education harmless, that we think it's a top priority."

After the meeting, both Graves and Shallenburger said their talks were friendly and frank. They plan to meet again later in the month.

"This is just a healthy part of the process," Graves said.

He was scheduled to leave today on a five-day trade mission to Japan, while Shallenburger plans to take his campaign to the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson.

After the meeting, Graves and Shallenburger shook hands in front of reporters. The governor also wished Shallenburger good luck in Saturday's debate at the fair against Democratic opponent Kathleen Sebelius.

"Wear your farm shirt," Graves advised Shallenburger.

Shallenburger said Graves needed some time to consider the GOP candidate's campaign message.

"We're bringing him up to speed," Shallenburger said.

Mel Kahn, a political science professor at Wichita State University, said Graves was walking a political tightrope. To maintain credibility with moderate Republicans, the governor must play "hard ball" with Shallenburger, Kahn said.

But if Graves decides later to run for another office in Kansas "he has to appeal to both wings of the party," Kahn said.

Kahn said Graves' hesitance to endorse Shallenburger may hurt the candidate. But in the long run endorsements from political officials don't influence most voters, he said.

Some Republicans worry a continued moderate-conservative split in their ranks will help Sebelius overcome the GOP's traditional advantage among Kansas voters.

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