Overland Park Leaving many GOP officials stunned and angry, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, picked former Kansas Republican Party chairman Mark Parkinson to run with her as lieutenant governor.
Parkinson switched parties to run with Sebelius. The move was announced as the pair made stops in several cities around the state on Wednesday.
Response from Republican leaders was quick and critical.
"Mark Parkinson obviously feels more at home with liberal Democrats than he does with Republicans," said Ron Freeman, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party.
"Mr. Parkinson has abandoned the beliefs which made the GOP America's majority party," said Charlotte Esau, executive director of the Kansas Republican Assembly.
Democrats said the selection showed Sebelius had the courage to ignore party politics to do what was best for the state. But Republicans angered by Parkinson's defection said the move had everything to do with politics.
And Republican Party Chairman Tim Shallenburger said he was glad Parkinson and other recent party switchers had left because they had been Republicans simply as a way to gain power.
"In essence, they ran as Republicans not because of sincerely held beliefs, but because that was the only road to money and political power in Kansas," Shallenburger said.
Democrats welcomed Parkinson, 48, of Olathe, with open arms.
"I've been an admirer of Mark Parkinson for a long time," said state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, who attended the Sebelius-Parkinson kick-off announcement at the Kansas University Edwards Campus in Overland Park.
Parkinson, a lawyer, has served in the state House and Senate. He owned Sweet Life nursing and assisted living facilities in Shawnee, which recently sold to the Nashville-based American Retirement Corp.
"When I was an intern in the Legislature, he was a state senator, and I was always very impressed with his intellect and thoughtfulness," Davis said.
"Despite being a former Republican Party chair, I have never seen him as a real partisan person. He is generally interested in good government and that is why he is here today and why he decided the Democratic Party fits him better than the Republican Party," he said.
Parkinson said he switched because he has grown to admire Sebelius as someone who ignored party labels to get things done for the betterment of all Kansans.
Recent stories about Sebelius
- 6News video: Parkinson joins Sebelius, changes party
- GOP issues response (05-31-06)
- Associated Press story: Former GOP chairman picked as Sebelius' running mate (05-31-06)
- Sebelius may tap 2nd GOP convert (05-31-06)
- Sebelius coy about choice for lieutenant governor (05-30-06)
- Sebelius kicks off campaign (05-27-06)
- 6News video: Empty spot on governor's ticket raises questions (05-24-06)
He said the Republican Party was headed in a different direction and sometimes against his core beliefs of economic development, excellent public schools and "a deep belief that the government, to the greatest extent possible, should stay out of the lives of our families and people of this state."
As state GOP chairman in 2002, Parkinson worked to defeat Sebelius, who was running against Shallenburger.
All his negative quotes about her from then were brought back up. When Sebelius picked former Republican John Moore to be her running mate in 2002, Parkinson called it a "gimmick."
On Wednesday, he said he had been wrong.
He said Sebelius had delivered on her campaign promises to improve the economy, increase funding to schools and cut government waste, all while leading in a nonpartisan manner.
Last month, Moore said he would not seek re-election because he wanted to spend more time with his family.
That sent Sebelius searching.
She said she picked Parkinson because of his legislative and business experience.
"This sends a very strong signal this is not about a partisan battle; it's about being a Kansan," Sebelius said.
By tapping Parkinson, Sebelius has a high-profile former Republican from vote-rich Johnson County, the largest county in the state.
She also could shore up support among pro-education Johnson County voters who believe the last school finance bill didn't go far enough in letting their school districts raise local funds to supplement their school systems.
Sebelius will face the winner of the Aug. 1 Republican primary. The three major candidates are state Sen. Jim Barnett, of Emporia; Ken Canfield, of Overland Park, founder of a center on fathering; and former House Speaker Robin Jennison, of Healy.
Barnett said Sebelius' selection of Parkinson was a political trick.
"This is a crude attempt to convince voters that Sebelius is in touch with mainstream Republican beliefs. She is not," he said.
Parkinson's departure from the GOP follows that of Paul Morrison, Johnson County's top prosecutor, who switched to the Democratic Party to run against Republican Atty. Gen. Phill Kline.
"The question is whether this is the beginning of a trend," said Joe Aistrup, head of the political science department at Kansas State University.
"Whether other Republicans decide there are greener pastures in the Democratic Party will depend on the success of these two candidates," he said.