As Gov. Mark Parkinson prepares to leave Kansas and start a new job in Washington, D.C., he is offering the kind of philosophical appraisal of Kansas politics that one might expect from a moderate Republican turned Democrat.
Politics, he told a Journal-World reporter last week, flows back and forth, but “In the long run, it tends to work out.” In other words, as Gov.-elect Sam Brownback prepares to take office, the political situation in Kansas is neither as good as Republicans hope nor as bad as Democrats fear.
One of Parkinson’s great charms as governor was that he never seemed particularly concerned or impressed with the political ebb and flow. Soon after he took over the office from former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, he announced he would not run for governor this year. That freed him to pursue certain goals for the state without worrying about scoring political points or having others trying to score points against him.
As a result, Parkinson was able to guide the state through an extremely difficult budget year and achieve several goals in an area that’s a special interest of his: energy production and transmission. No one supported a sales tax increase when Parkinson proposed it in his State of the State address, but when push came to shove at the end of the legislative session, the increase seemed the best of the bad alternatives. Environmentalists applauded progress on new electrical transmission lines and wind power production but weren’t as pleased with Parkinson’s decision to allow a new permit process for a coal-fired power plant in southwest Kansas.
Parkinson’s pragmatic approach to politics and government was apparent as he spoke about the state he is leaving behind to become president and CEO of the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living in Washington, D.C. He said Kansas Democrats had used their political capital well and should be proud of what they, in partnership with moderate Republicans, were able to accomplish in the last eight years. In turn, he warned that Brownback may be surprised by the responsibilities of being the governor, the person who has to make it “all add up.”
Nonetheless, that job now falls to Brownback and Republicans who gained an even larger majority in the Kansas House in the Nov. 2 election. The governor and Legislature may find making changes in social policies relatively easy, Parkinson said, but overhauling the state’s school finance formula or its tax system will be far harder.
The fact that Parkinson is preparing to leave the state may make it easier for him to wax philosophical about the situation he is leaving behind. Will he ever return to Kansas, the J-W reporter asked, perhaps to seek elective office? That’s not in his plans, Parkinson said, but “It’s possible.”
As the governor said, it’s all part of the flow of Kansas politics.