Archive for Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Reporter’s satirical novel targets state politics

November 5, 2003

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In a few days, Kansas politicians and their hangers-on will probably be buzzing about "The Things That Are Caesar's," a satirical novel about Kansas politics by Wichita Eagle reporter Bud Norman.

Norman, 44, is no stranger to the goings on in Topeka.

"I was there for (former Gov.) Joan Finney's first (legislative) session. That was in 1991," Norman said.

He's returned many times since then.

In "The Things That Are Caesar's," Norman tells the story of what happens when Frankie Livengood, a longtime political hack who's mastered the fine art of unprincipled deal making, finds himself caught among loyalty to his boss, a governor whose campaign he managed, and to himself.

In between, there are encounters -- some sexual, one violent -- with advocates on both sides of the abortion issue, as well as a militiaman, an ex-governor turned lobbyist and, of course, a grizzled reporter.

The settings are pure Kansas: campaign stops at the Garden of Eden in Lucas, the State Fair in Hutchinson, Mount Sunflower in Wallace County and the Statehouse.

Norman insisted the characters were fictional, although the governor is a Vietnam veteran from a small town in western Kansas who develops a passion for clean water legislation.

"People have told me that's (former Gov.) Mike Hayden," Norman said, "but it's not -- if it is, it's something I did subconsciously."

But, Norman said, many of the characters are, in fact, combinations of people -- some well-known, others not -- he's met at the Statehouse or on the campaign trail.

For example, Norman's fictional Gov. Chuck Bentley decides against seeking a second term because he knew he'd lose, in part, because of his ex-wife's badmouthing.

Those who follow Kansas politics will recall Finney chose not to seek re-election when it became clear she would lose and that Gov. John Carlin's second ex-wife did him no favors.

"The Things That Are Caesar's" is due in area bookstores Thursday.

Sarah Bagby, managing partner at Watermark Books in Wichita, read an advance copy of Norman's novel.

"Bud's a good writer," Bagby said. "His characterizations and dialogue are great. But the thing that struck me is the way he portrays the breadth of the Kansas experience. It's unusual for Kansas City, Topeka, Wichita and western Kansas to all come together in the same story."

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