Kansas Secretary of State resigns to take private sector job

? Kansas’ top elections official announced Monday that he’s resigning to take a top job at a Kansas City-area company that builds and manages government Web sites.

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said his last day in the state office will be Feb. 15. He’ll become senior vice president of sales and marketing for NIC Inc., based in Olathe.

Thornburgh, a Republican, already had decided against seeking a fifth term as secretary of state this year and abandoned a campaign for governor last year. He said he’d begun searching for a job in private business a few weeks ago when he started talking with NIC’s chief executive officer.

Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat, will name a new secretary of state to serve until Thornburgh’s current term ends in January 2011. Three Republicans and two Democrats are running for the office this year.

Thornburgh has long been an advocate of providing government services and information electronically and received an award in 2002 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his efforts. His office launched an online voter registration system last fall.

“That is a groundbreaking movement around the country,” Thornburgh said.

NIC manages Web sites or Web portals for 23 states — including Kansas — and for hundreds of local governments. Founded in 1992, it now has about 600 employees and reported $133 million in revenues for 2009.

Company spokeswoman Nancy Beaton said NIC had created the vice president’s job to help attract business from additional states and look for other business opportunities.

Neither the company nor Thornburgh would disclose what he’ll be paid at NIC. The secretary of state has an $86,000 salary.

“We’re extremely thrilled,” Beaton said of Thornburgh’s decision to join the company. “We’ve been conducting a nationwide search.”

Leaders of both political parties praised Thornburgh, saying he modernized the secretary of state’s office and made state government more accessible.

Parkinson hasn’t set a deadline for replacement Thornburgh as secretary of state. But spokeswoman Beth Martino said the governor will move quickly because, “Obviously this is an important position heading into an election year.”

In the Republican contest for secretary of state, Thornburgh already has endorsed Shawnee County Election Commissioner Elizabeth Ensley, whom he appointed.

Also running are J.R. Claeys, of Salina, a former CEO of the National Association of Government Contractors, and Kris Kobach, of Piper, a former Kansas GOP chairman.

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Chris Steineger, of Kansas City, has filed, and Securities Commissioner Chris Biggs, of Junction City, has appointed a campaign treasurer.

Martino said Parkinson hasn’t ruled out naming one of the potential candidates. Thornburgh said he’s not talked to the governor about the appointment.

“I will expect the governor will let me know and ask my opinions,” Thornburgh said. “I clearly understand that’s his choice and not mine.”

If Parkinson appoints a Democrat, it would be the first time in 59 years one has served as secretary of state. In GOP-leaning Kansas, only one Democrat has held the office in the past 100 years, Frank Ryan, who served from 1949 to 1951.

Thornburgh, 47, was first elected secretary of state in 1994, after having served as assistant secretary of state and as the deputy assistant secretary overseeing elections. He was re-elected in 1998, 2002 and 2006.

In June 2007, Thornburgh appointed a campaign treasurer and began raising money for a run for governor this year. But U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback entered the GOP race, and Thornburgh dropped his own campaign in June.

In regular trading Monday on Wall Street, shares of NIC closed at $7.13, down 25 cents, or 3.4 percent.