Age: 51. Hometown:Olathe. Born in Wichita. Education: Bachelor’s degree from Wichita State University in 1980; law degree from Kansas University in 1984. Career: Formed his own law firm, 1986; began nursing home business, 1996; elected to the Kansas House as a Republican, 1990; elected to the Senate, also as a Republican, 1992, but did not seek re-election in 1996; Kansas Republican Party chairman, 1999-2003; switched parties to run as lieutenant governor and elected, 2006. Personal: He and his wife, Stacy, have three children.
Topeka Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson enjoys the respect of the Kansas Legislature’s top leaders as he waits to become the state’s next governor, and they describe him as intelligent and approachable.
But Parkinson also carries some political baggage. He is a former Kansas Republican Party chairman who was considered a potential GOP governor or U.S. senator before he switched parties in 2006 to run as lieutenant governor with Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
He’s now poised to replace Sebelius, who is expected to be formally nominated today by President Barack Obama as U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services. Her resignation as governor automatically would elevate Parkinson to governor.
Parkinson has said he’s ready to serve as governor, and leaders of the Republican majorities in the Kansas House and Senate have said they can work with him.
Parkinson already has said he won’t run for governor in 2010, not even as the incumbent. Some Democrats believe he senses less-than-enthusiastic support within his adopted party, and some Republicans say hard feelings remain within the GOP, whatever legislative leaders say.
“In his current situation, he comes in as both as a lame duck and as a lame duck who’s mistrusted by people in both parties,” Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor and a former Kansas GOP chairman, said Sunday. “That’s a pretty tough spot to be in.”
But as soon as a White House source said Saturday that Obama will nominate Sebelius, the Kansas Democratic Party’s chairman, Larry Gates, praised Parkinson as someone who’s long been “working with both parties to craft solutions for the people.”
Since Parkinson took office in January 2007, Sebelius has given him some high-profile assignments. He’s leading a team advising her administration on how to spend an expected $1.7 billion in federal stimulus dollars, and he’s a top adviser on energy issues.
“He knows the Legislature,” said Senate President Steve Morris, a Hugoton Republican. “I’m looking forward to working with Mark.”
Parkinson served a single term in the Kansas House before winning a Senate seat in 1992. He decided not to seek re-election to the Senate in 1996, so he could start a nursing home business.
“I have a lot of respect for Mark. I get along with Mark very well,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. “He’s somebody who’s awfully intelligent, very personable. It’ll be very cordial and collegial.”
In the 1990s, Parkinson seemed to be a rising GOP star. In 1996, when Bob Dole gave up his U.S. Senate seat to run for president, then-Gov. Bill Graves considered Parkinson as a replacement. He was mentioned as a potential candidate for both Congress and governor in 2002.
He served four years as Kansas GOP chairman, starting in 1999. During Sebelius’ first run for governor in 2002, he called her a “left-wing liberal Democrat” and, on crime issues, “pro-criminal.”
But four years later he switched parties to run with her. He told reporters that his views on issues hadn’t changed, “but the parties have changed quite a bit.”