Overland Park Gov. Kathleen Sebelius announced today that former state GOP Chairman Mark Parkinson, who switched his affiliation to Democrat only a day earlier, will be her running mate.
In the first of a series of stops around the state, Sebelius said she chose Parkinson because he has focused on some of the same issues she does, such as improving public education, expanding economic development and reducing crime.
She also saw his selection as a continuation of her outreach to moderate Republicans, following up on her choice of a former Republican as her running mate four years ago.
"My philosophy has always been great leaders and good ideas don't come with a party label" she said.
For years, the Kansas GOP has been split between moderates and conservatives, and Sebelius hopes to win votes from Parkinson's fellow moderates in her re-election bid - something she did successfully when she beat conservative Republican challenger Tim Shallenburger in 2002. In that race, John Moore, a Republican who had a long career as an executive with Cessna Aircraft Co., had switched parties days before being introduced as Sebelius' running mate.
Moore is retiring when his term expires in January.
Parkinson, 48, of Olathe, said many issues that were most important to him when he became a Republican 30 years ago are issues Sebelius has worked on in her first term. He said he has become tired of "attack politics" and has stopped evaluating politicians based on party affiliation.
"As the 30 years progressed that I was in the party, it became clear that the party was headed in a different direction - in fact, at some point was actually working against some of my core values," Parkinson said.
The Kansas GOP called Parkinson a hypocrite and pointed out that four years ago Parkinson had called Sebelius a "left-wing liberal Democrat" and said Republicans who supported her were "either insincere or uninformed."
"Mark Parkinson obviously feels more at home with liberal Democrats than he does with Republicans. By his own words, he is either uninformed or insincere. Or third he is simply coming out of the closet," said Ron Freeman, executive director of the state Republican Party, said in a written statement.
Parkinson acknowledged he had doubted Sebelius when she first ran for governor but said he now believes she provides "independent leadership" in Kansas. He said he was wrong in his criticism of Sebelius and her Republican supporters.
He said he was especially impressed by Sebelius cutting what he called government waste of about $1 billion.
"She proved to us you don't have to be loud to be strong," Parkinson said.
The current Kansas GOP chairman, Tim Shallenburger, said the announcement showed Parkinson's "blind ambition" to ascend to a position of power.
"I'm relieved that Mark Parkinson switched over. Maybe a few others who want to think about it," Shallenburger said. "There are people who are disgruntled on both sides of the party, as they are in the Democratic Party. This is about Mark Parkinson's ambition."
Shallenburger also said Parkinson has a liberal voting record from his days in the Legislature. Parkinson, a Wichita native, served in the House from 1991-92 and the Senate from 1993-97.
Parkinson, who owns and operates assisted-living centers, served as GOP chairman from 1999-2003.
About 100 people crowded into a small room for the announcement at the University of Kansas campus in Johnson County, home to almost 21 percent of the state's registered voters. Sebelius and Parkinson planned similar stops later Wednesday in Pittsburg, Wichita and Topeka and on Thursday in Dodge City, Hays and Salina.
Sebelius cited Parkinson's business experience and willingness to work with people from different political parties as reasons she chose Parkinson.
"I was looking for a Kansan who shares my independent approach to leading this state; someone willing to set partisanship aside for the sake of achieving real progress," Sebelius said in a news release announcing her choice. "And I was looking for a Kansan who brings a businessperson's perspective and critical eye to the operations of state government."
Another prominent Republican who recently switched parties is Johnson County District Attorney Paul Morrison, who hopes to challenge conservative Republican Attorney General Phill Kline in the November general election.
Associated Press Writer John Milburn contributed to this report.