Topeka Some Kansas Democrats want Gov. Mark Parkinson to change his mind about running for a full term next year, despite his repeated statements that he’ll leave politics.
Parkinson was elevated from lieutenant governor to governor in April, when term-limited Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become U.S. secretary of health and human services. Her departure put him in a stronger position for a 2010 campaign, but he previously had declared that he wouldn’t run for any office.
His continued insistence that he won’t run leaves Democrats without a candidate to face Sen. Sam Brownback, who became the presumed Republican nominee when Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh dropped out of the GOP race last month. Meanwhile, Parkinson has won some praise from even Republican legislative leaders for his handling of energy and budget issues.
“Among Democrats, there’s a belief that he has a golden opportunity, and he’s not using it, and maybe that’s a little source of frustration,” said State Treasurer Dennis McKinney, a fellow Democrat.
Sebelius’ decision to name Parkinson as her running mate for her campaign for a second and final term in 2006 caused grumbling in both parties.
Parkinson, a former legislator, served as Kansas GOP chairman as late as January 2003. Some Republicans accused him of switching parties to run with Sebelius out of ambition for the governor’s job, after he’d been critical of her during her first campaign for governor in 2002.
Parkinson has said he switched after the GOP became less moderate and after watching Sebelius do an effective job as governor. But at least a few Democrats resented the idea of him being Sebelius’ heir so quickly after joining their party.
In January, Parkinson surprised leaders of both parties by saying he wouldn’t run in 2010 and would instead return to private business. He’d left the Legislature in 1996 to start a successful nursing home business.
Later, when President Barack Obama nominated Sebelius for the HHS job and after her confirmation, some Democrats speculated Parkinson would change his mind once he had the governor’s office. But he repeated his pledge to serve only the remaining one year and almost nine months of Sebelius’ term.
“I’m absolutely not changing my mind,” Parkinson said after a public appearance last week. “I don’t why people keep the idea out there.”
McKinney speculated that Democrats want Parkinson to run because they view him as effective.
In his first week in office, Parkinson brokered a deal with Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to allow it to build a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas, clearing the way for passage of legislation designed to promote renewable energy. Sunflower had wanted to build two plants, but Sebelius’ administration rejected the plan, and the resulting dispute with legislators who’d supported the plan held up “green” proposals.
Environmentalists and some Sebelius supporters are still upset, seeing the compromise as one-sided toward Sunflower. But Republicans generally were pleased.
GOP legislative leaders also backed Parkinson earlier this month when he imposed $160 million in adjustments, including a new round of cuts in aid to public schools, to keep the budget balanced through June 2010.
“I would be one of those that would certainly hope that he would change his mind, but I don’t believe that he will,” said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.
Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political scientist who once worked on Sebelius’s staff, said Parkinson still has strong appeal to Democrats because they don’t have any other candidate at the moment. Also, Loomis said, Parkinson appears to be comfortable with the governor’s duties.
“He has the demeanor of someone who’s having a good time, but he also knows that he’s a short-timer,” Loomis said.
Brownback remains the only declared GOP candidate in the race, and some Republicans doubt he’ll face a serious challenge with Thornburgh out. Among Democrats, state Sen. Chris Steineger, of Kansas City, has expressed interest in running but hasn’t declared.