Greg Orman, an independent candidate for governor in 2018, has named Republican Sen. John Doll, of Garden City, as his lieutenant governor running mate.
The announcement came in a news release issued around 12:15 a.m. Wednesday.
Doll, 60, was part of the moderate Republican wave in the 2016 election. A former member of the House, he unseated conservative Sen. Larry Powell in the GOP primary that year, 57 percent to 43 percent, then went on to win the general election handily.
Doll posted a comment on Twitter later in the day saying he had formally changed his voter registration to be listed as an unaffiliated voter.
“I’m running with Greg Orman because I believe he is the best possible Governor that Kansas could have,” Doll stated in the release. “He places the people first, he’s not about party politics and the only master he will serve is the people of the state of Kansas.”
Until Wednesday, Doll had chaired two Ways and Means subcommittees, one on education and another on the lottery and gaming. He is also vice chair of the Senate Education and Transportation committees.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, however, said that under Senate rules, Doll is now no longer qualified to serve on any committees. She said those assignments are made by the leaders of political party caucuses, and a party has to hold at least two seats in the Senate in order to make assignments.
An aide in Wagle’s office said Doll plans to continue caucusing with Senate Republicans for the remainder of the 2018 session.
His departure from the GOP ranks causes a slight shift in the party makeup of the Senate, which will now have 30 Republicans, nine Democrats and one independent.
As Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer prepares to take over as governor at 3 p.m. Wednesday, there is one question that seems to dominate almost every conversation in the hallways of the Statehouse: Who will be the next lieutenant governor?
Under Kansas law, Colyer will have authority to appoint the new lieutenant governor, and it doesn't even require Senate confirmation. But neither the law nor the Kansas Constitution provide any deadline for how quickly that appointment needs to be made.
So far, only two things are known for certain about Colyer's decision. He won't make any announcement this week, according to his communications office. And nobody knows for certain who is on the list of potential candidates.
That, however, hasn't stopped people from speculating about the choice.
One name that comes up in multiple conversations, though, is Kansas State Board of Education member Jim McNiece of Wichita.
McNiece is viewed as a moderate Republican who has worked as both a teacher and school administrator in both Catholic and public school systems in the Wichita area.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, McNiece confirmed that he and Colyer have spoken about the possibility. "But that was months ago."
"My guess is they’ve moved on," McNiece said. "We don’t chat very often."
One complicating factor for Colyer is that he is stepping into the governor's office in the middle of an election year in which he is also vying, amid heavy competition, for the Republican nomination to a full term of his own as governor. That could scare away potential candidates if they think the job might not last beyond January 2019.
Traditionally, candidates for governor don't announce their lieutenant governor running mate until the summer before the August primary, so it is possible he could wait until then. But that would leave a big hole in the line of succession until that time.
Another issue is that the lieutenant governor doesn't really have any formal job duties other than those the governor assigns. The job only pays about $54,000 a year and is generally thought to be a part-time job, which makes it difficult to convince someone to give up their current job.
Some governors, however, have had their lieutenant governors pull double duty as cabinet secretaries, jobs that pay considerably better than the lieutenant governor. Former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, for example, had two lieutenant governors during his eight years in office: Sheila Frahm, who also served as Secretary of Administration; and Gary Sherrer, who also served as Commerce Secretary.
Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' first lieutenant governor, John Moore, also served as Commerce Secretary for about the first two years of Sebelius' first term. He stepped down from that post in September 2004 to become the state's first "full time" lieutenant governor.
The last time there was a vacancy in the lieutenant governor's office was in 2011, when Sebelius resigned during her second term to become Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration. That elevated then-Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to the office of governor.
Parkinson chose Troy Findley, a former Democratic lawmaker from Lawrence, to be his lieutenant governor. Findley had been serving as chief of staff for Sebelius.
It is not known whether anyone among Gov. Sam Brownback's senior staff is on the short list. At least one, however, has said flatly that he is not interested, former House Speaker and former State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, who has served as Brownback's legislative liaison throughout the administration. Shallenburger was the GOP nominee for governor in 2002 when he ran unsuccessfully against Sebelius.
That leaves a wide-open field of politicians, cabinet secretaries, senior staff and even business leaders from whom Colyer could make his pick. As of now, though, there is no clear indication from anyone about whom Colyer might pick.
Secretary of state’s office removes public forms from its website amid concerns about privacy violations
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach's office has removed information from its website about the business and financial holdings of public officials in response to concerns that the information could be used as a tool for identity theft.
The information in question is contained in forms called "Statements of Substantial Interest," or SSIs, a form that many officials, including elected ones, must file annually and disclose what other ownership interests they have in outside businesses and organizations, including nonprofit organizations.
But the forms also contain other personal information, including the last four digits the filer's Social Security number.
State law requires thousands of people connected with state government to file those forms annually. Besides elected officials and candidates for office, the forms are also required from anyone whose job is subject to Senate confirmation, general counsels of state agencies, consultants who work on contract with the state, and virtually all employees of state colleges and universities.
Brian Caskey, who heads the elections division in the secretary of state's office, said in an interview that he removed all links to that information on the agency's website immediately after receiving a complaint Thursday from Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, who said he looked up his own name on the website and discovered that the form online displayed the last four digits of his Social Security number.
That action means the public currently does not have online access to information on those forms.
Carmichael told the Journal-World that he sent a letter to Kobach on Friday, demanding that his information be removed from the website. He also filed a Kansas Open Records Act request seeking the "names, addresses, occupation, and date of access of each person or entity" who has viewed his information, a move he said would help him in mitigating any damage that may have been caused by the disclosure of sensitive personal information.
Disclosing the last four digits of someone's Social Security number is considered inherently dangerous because people with knowledge of how those numbers are generated can sometimes guess what the other numbers are, especially if they know when and where the person was born. That, then, could give hackers access to all kinds of personal information such as credit histories and medical information.
Caskey said he is working with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission to find a solution that will allow public access to the information on those forms without disclosing sensitive personal data.
Caskey said the forms are typically submitted in one of two ways, either by paper filings that people fill out by hand or through electronic filing, which has become more popular in recent years. He said the paper forms are optically scanned into image files, making it hard technologically to redact any information. But he said redaction would be easier with forms submitted electronically.
In a statement issued Thursday afternoon, Kobach said the information contained in the forms is prescribed by the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, and state law requires the secretary of state's office to receive those forms and make all of the information contained in them available to the public.
But he said he does not believe a person's partial Social Security number is necessary, and he is asking the ethics commission to consider amending the form, an issue the commission plans to take up at its next meeting on Jan. 31.
Kobach said the practice of making the forms available online through the secretary of state's website began in 2005 under then-Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.
As the Kansas Legislature heads into the third week of the 2018 session, with little progress being made on school finance until a consultant's report comes out in mid-March, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are starting to turn their attention to issues of transparency in the Statehouse.
Transparency has long been an issue at the Legislature, whether it involves anonymous bills introduced by committees, with no sponsor's name attached to them, or the "gut-and-go" process in which the contents of one bill are stripped out and replaced with the contents of another bill, or even the degree to which lobbyists have to disclose how much they, or their clients, are spending to influence legislation.
All of those issues have been reported over the years, but they, along with many others, were nicely pulled together and placed into context in a Kansas City Star series published in November that has drawn much attention from the public, not to mention individual lawmakers themselves.
For example, Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, who chairs the House Health and Human Services Committee, announced Thursday that his committee, and likely several others, were putting an end to anonymous bills.
"The person introducing a bill will have to state their name, and if they're part of an organization, state their organization, and all of that information will be put in the committee minutes so it will be searchable," he told committee members, as well as the gathered audience for the meeting.
For many years, individual legislators, as well as members of the public, have been allowed to go into a committee and request the introduction of a bill, and as a matter of courtesy, most committees would agree to introduce it as a "committee" bill, with no named sponsor attached to it.
At times, they would even agree to introduce bills that hadn't even been drafted yet, so-called "conceptual" bills that would be written up later. But Hawkins said he was also ending that practice, at least in his committee, and that anyone wanting a bill introduced would first have to work with the Revisor of Statutes office to draft it in bill form before it can be introduced.
It's been a practice that, on the one hand, gives any individual or interest group considerable access into the legislative process, as long as they're willing to continue working to shepherd their bill toward passage. But it also makes it hard for people, including lawmakers, to shield themselves from scrutiny for introducing controversial or unpopular legislation.
House Democratic Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, a candidate for governor, said in a news conference Friday that he liked the idea, sort of.
"I think that's a great idea," Ward said, before adding: "Wait a minute, I thought it was such a great idea, I proposed it as a (House) rule change last year that would require every committee to make note of who requests a committee bill and the content of that committee bill."
During that news conference with Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka, Ward said that legislative Democrats are planning a news conference Tuesday to announce an entire package of transparency issues, although he wouldn't go into further detail.
But Hensley may have given a hint about at least one part of the package when he announced that he has filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act to disclose information about all of the contacts his administration had with lobbyists for CoreCivic — the private prison company selected, but not yet hired, as the preferred bidder on a $362 million contract to rebuild the Lansing Correctional Facility — before those people registered as lobbyists for the company Nov. 13.
One of those lobbyists is David Kensinger, who formerly served as Gov. Sam Brownback's chief of staff before starting his own lobbying firm, Kensinger & Associates
"I have great concerns about what kind of influence he (Kensinger) had in bringing this project to the state," Hensley said.
The State Finance Council, made up of the governor and legislative leaders from both chambers, was expected to take a final vote on that project Thursday. But the meeting was abruptly called off when it appeared the project may not have had enough votes to pass due to ongoing questions and concerns from members of the council. That meeting may be rescheduled for as early as Monday, according to the governor's office.
Meanwhile, Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, announced Friday that she wants to introduce legislation requiring anyone who works on contract to influence action by an executive branch official to register as a lobbyist. Currently, lobbyists only have to register if they try to influence legislative action.
"Through discussions in the off-session with legislators from across the country, I learned that many states include the executive branch in their ethics laws and I firmly believe that Kansas should require the same,” Wagle said in a news release. “We need legislation that explicitly states that any person attempting to promote or influence an executive official must report those activities. This will allow for increased transparency in Kansas.”
Kendall Marr, a spokesman in the governor's office, said in an email that Brownback is generally supportive of Wagle's idea, although he wants to see the actual bill before making a final decision.
Regarding Hensley's open records request about lobbying activities on behalf of CoreCivic, Marr said only that the governor's office is currently processing the request.
Rep. Steve Alford’s abrupt resignation from leadership positions on two key committees has forced a shake-up in the Kansas Statehouse that could have an impact on legislative efforts to reform the state’s child welfare program.
Alford, R-Ulysses, stepped down from his chairmanship of the House Committee on Children and Seniors and from his vice chairmanship of the Child Welfare System Task Force, a panel of lawmakers and outside experts formed last year to make recommendations on reforming the state’s foster care system and other child welfare services.
He stepped down from those positions amid furor over remarks he made over the weekend suggesting marijuana should remain illegal because African Americans lack the character and genetic makeup needed to handle its effects.
In response, House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, appointed Rep. Erin Davis, another Olathe Republican, to fill both slots. Davis is an attorney who also served on the 2016 Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy. Alford’s comments were quoted in a Garden City Telegram story on Monday, the first day of the legislative session, and they immediately prompted a strong rebuke from Ryckman, who said Alford’s comments do not in any way reflect the views of Kansans or the policies that will come out of the 2018 session.
The Telegram story also came out on the same day that the Child Welfare Task Force issued its preliminary report based on its first six months of work. Among other things, the report said the Department for Children and Families is plagued by “High turnover levels of social workers due to stress, excessive caseloads, and low pay.”
The panel will continue working throughout 2018 and is not expected to issue its final report and recommendations until January 2019, after a new administration is sworn into office. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel on Monday called for adding $16.5 million in new funding for DCF to address that and many other issues in the child welfare system. Ryckman on Monday said he hadn’t decided what, if any, disciplinary actions he would take in response to the comments, and it wasn’t immediately clear Tuesday whether Alford’s resignations from the committee leadership posts were voluntary or forced.
In addition to his role on the task force and the Children and Seniors, Alford serves on the Judiciary Committee; Transportation Committee; Energy Utilities and Telecommunications; and the Joint Committee on State Building Construction.
Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer has scheduled a news conference Monday to announce proposed budget enhancements for the Department for Children and Families.
That's unusual for two reasons: First, because it is rare for anyone other than the governor's office to announce budget proposals before the governor himself does so, and Gov. Sam Brownback isn't expected to announce details of his budget plan until Wednesday.
It's also unusual for Colyer who, even though he is running for governor, has had to keep a low profile on policy issues while waiting for Brownback to be confirmed for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration.
But a newly released "Kansas Speaks" poll from the Docking Institute of Public Affairs at Fort Hays State University may shed some light on why it's important now for Colyer to come out from under Brownback's shadow.
The survey asked 434 Kansas adults whether they had ever heard of various Kansas politicians. Only 38 percent of them said "yes" when asked about the lieutenant governor. That compares to 86 percent who recognized the name of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the politician with the highest name recognition, due in part, no doubt, to the fact that he appears regularly in national conservative news media.
The survey also showed only 29 percent of respondents were at least “somewhat confident” with Jeff Colyer taking over as Kansas governor.
But the news wasn't all bad for Colyer, nor was it all good for Kobach. Although Kobach may have the highest name recognition, it evidently isn't for positive reasons. Only 30 percent of those surveyed said they had a somewhat or highly positive opinion about his job performance, while a whopping 47 percent had a negative opinion of him, including 37 percent calling their opinion of him "highly negative."
Colyer fared a little better, with 34 percent saying they had a positive opinion of him, and only 23 percent with a negative opinion. But that left 48 percent of respondents with no particular opinion about him one way or another — not a big motivator for people to vote for him or write checks to his campaign.
The highest rated politicians in the poll were the three leading Democratic candidates running for governor at the time the poll was taken in the fall of 2017. Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer had the highest positive rating, at 46 percent. He was followed by former Rep. Josh Svaty of Ellsworth, at 44 percent, and current House Minority Leader Jim Ward of Wichita, at 40 percent.
The survey did not ask about Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, because she didn't get into the race until mid-December.
Colyer had been planning to come out of the shadows much earlier, pending Brownback's confirmation to a diplomatic post in the Trump administration. But that has been stalled in the U.S. Senate, and now Brownback, not Colyer, will deliver the high-profile State of the State address next week.
Brownback will be leaving office amid historically low approval ratings, with 70 percent of those polled expressing some level of dissatisfaction, and 62 percent approving of him resigning to take a job in the Trump administration. Obviously aware of that, other GOP candidates in the governor's race have started routinely linking their names in public statements, referencing the "Brownback-Colyer administration" and "Brownback-Colyer tax policies."
Monday's news conference about proposed budget enhancements for DCF could help Colyer turn things around.
Problems at DCF, and particularly the state foster care system that it manages, have been scandalous for the Brownback administration amid news reports about 70-plus foster children who had gone missing, children being forced to spend the night in social workers' offices due to shortages of emergency placement spaces, and children being killed while in the state's custody.
That makes improving the child welfare system a pretty good issue for Colyer to use to start elevating his own profile and separating himself from Brownback.
Amid those reports, even Republican lawmakers started calling for ousting then-DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, who ended up retiring Dec. 1. Then, in what appeared to be part of a transition process, Colyer was allowed to announce the hiring of a new secretary, Gina Meier-Hummel of Lawrence, who had been director of the Children's Shelter. She is scheduled to join him at the news conference.
Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that he was still optimistic that his nomination to a diplomatic post in the Trump administration would be resubmitted to the U.S. Senate and that he would eventually be confirmed, although the White House has not yet made an announcement.
Asked during an impromptu news conference in the Statehouse whether he had heard when, or whether President Trump would resubmit his nomination, Brownback said, "Yes, but I'm not at liberty to announce."
"It is my understanding that, yes, that will happen," he added. "I think it's going to be soon, but the president's office, they have to announce."
Brownback was nominated to be U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom back in July. But during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October, a number of Democrats expressed concern over his record on gay rights, particularly his decision in 2015 to repeal an executive order signed by former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, prohibiting job discrimination in executive branch agencies based on sexual orientation or sexual identity.
His nomination passed out of the committee narrowly, on an 11-10 party-line vote. But because of the objections from Democrats, the full Senate did not take a vote to confirm him before adjourning its 2017 session. Under Senate rules, that sent his nomination, along with about 130 others, back to the White House, which is expected to resubmit them during the new session.
Brownback, a former senator himself, said he wasn't surprised that the Senate sent back so many nominations at the end of the session, given the schedule the Senate was under.
"What they had to get done, they did get done, which is the tax bill," he said. "And they got it done, they got it through, and at that point in time everybody's nerves are frayed and people's attitudes of cooperation were diminished."
"I have been talking with the parliamentarian's office," he added. "I believe I'm going to be confirmed, and fairly soon. But this is the Senate, and this is a difficult time."
Brownback has said he would resign the governor's office once confirmed but not before. As a result of the delay, however, he will deliver the State of the State address on Tuesday, and the budget plan being submitted to the Legislature is largely his work.
Former state Sen. Jim Barnett added some heat to the race for the Republican nomination for governor this week by taking direct aim at the presumed front-runner, Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
In a news release, Barnett, a physician who now lives in Topeka but used to represent a Senate district in Emporia, laid out a list of priorities that he wants Kansas lawmakers to focus on in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Monday. Most of the items were part of his standard stump speeches about education, health care and economic development. But then he added an extra item that was clearly aimed at Kobach.
"Finally, as the legislature is looking for efficiencies, I urge them to end the Crosscheck program in the Secretary of State’s office,” Barnett said in the news release. “Kansas taxpayers shouldn’t be paying to administer a flawed program that 25 other states draw from but don’t reimburse us for."
Then he added: "The legislature should also remove prosecutorial jurisdiction from Secretary of State’s office. There should be a clear division of responsibility and prosecution is better handled by the Attorney General’s office and local prosecutors. There is a reason that no other states vest this authority in the office of the Secretary of State.”
Kobach's campaign did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages requesting comment.
The Crosscheck program is something that actually began under Kobach's predecessor, former Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, also a Republican. It's a computer database that is intended to identify people who are registered to vote in multiple states, something that is not uncommon when people move across a state line and register in their new home without canceling their old voter registration.
Initially it involved only the states of Kansas, Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska, but it has since been expanded to include 25 states.
It has gained national attention — and national criticism — in recent months after Kobach highlighted it during the first meeting of President Donald Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, where Kobach serves as vice chairman. That group is asking all 50 states to submit their voter registration rolls into the system, rolls that contain a lot of personal information, including in many cases the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
An investigation by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica that was published in October revealed that the Crosscheck system is fraught with security issues. "Crosscheck’s files are hosted on an insecure server, according to its own information. Usernames and passwords were regularly shared by email, making them vulnerable to snooping. And passwords were overly simplistic and only irregularly changed," ProPublica reported.
Kobach's office has said it is reviewing Crosscheck's security protocols, but it is not known whether any of the other participating states besides Kansas will share in the cost of any security upgrades.
The other issue Barnett raised is one of Kobach's signature legislative achievements: a law that gives his office the power to prosecute election crimes.
Kobach has gained a national profile as a crusader against illegal immigration and voter fraud. Following the 2016 election, he backed up President Trump's unsubstantiated claim that "millions" of illegal immigrants voted in that year's presidential election, a claim Trump has used to refute the argument that Democrat Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote in 2016 by more than 3 million ballots.
Since the 2015 passage of the bill giving him prosecutorial powers, Kobach's office has filed fewer than a dozen charges, mainly against voters who cast ballots in multiple states. Only one case has involved a person who was not a U.S. citizen at the time he voted but who later became a naturalized citizen.
There is reason to believe Kobach didn't respond to Barnett because he simply doesn't have to. According to one Republican official, a handful of internal polls conducted by some of the campaigns have consistently shown Kobach in the lead, with Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer a distant second and all the other GOP candidates polling below the margin of error.
That, however, could be based largely on name recognition, since many voters in Kansas don't get engaged in the campaigns until after the filing deadline, which is June 1 this year.
Meanwhile, Kobach has continued to conduct much of his campaign through national news. As recently as Tuesday night, he appeared on Fox News, where he denounced a policy of former President Barack Obama known as DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — which allowed certain undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children to remain in the country as long as they met certain conditions.
Kobach also is a regular contributor to Breitbart News, a conservative news outlet that was founded by former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
The Trump administration announced in September that it was phasing out that program, putting Congress under pressure to enact legislation similar to DACA. That's expected to be a major issue in the second half of the 115th Congress, which began Wednesday.
There are currently seven major candidates in the GOP race for governor. Besides Kobach, Colyer and Barnett, they include Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer, Wichita businessman Willis "Wink" Hartman, former Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita, and former Rep. Ed O'Malley, who now lives in Wichita but formerly represented a House district in Johnson County.
The U.S. Senate will not confirm Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback for a diplomatic post in the Trump administration before the end of the year, setting up the possibility that he may still be governor when the 2018 legislative session starts on Jan. 8.
The McClatchy News Service published a story Thursday quoting Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee that held Brownback's confirmation hearing, as saying a vote on Brownback's nomination could take place in early January.
“They want a recorded vote and we’re trying to do it in the least painful way possible in early January,” Corker was quoted as saying.
President Donald Trump nominated Brownback in July to be the U.S. ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom. But Democrats have objected to his nomination based on his record on LGBT rights and his support of so-called "religious freedom" legislation that critics argued would have legalized private-sector discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
The Senate was trying to wrap up its business for the year on Thursday.
Some observers have suggested that if the Senate goes into a formal recess at the end of the day, that could open the door for Trump to make what's known as a recess appointment, a way of filling vacancies quickly when Congress is not in session. Even that, though, would require the Senate to confirm him before the end of the next congressional session, according to Article 2, Section 2, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution.
Wednesday evening, the Senate approved 39 presidential appointments and military promotions, including the appointment of University of Kansas law professor Stephen McAllister to be U.S. attorney for the District of Kansas.
All of those votes, however, were unanimous voice votes that did not require floor debate.
Greg Orman stepped into the 2018 governor's race Wednesday as an independent, banking on the idea that voters have become disenchanted with the two main political parties.
Orman, readers will recall, is the Johnson County businessman who ran a strong challenge against Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014. But that was a race in which the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, bowed out in what appeared to be a coordinated effort with Orman to prevent Republicans from winning a Senate majority. It didn't work, and Orman ended up losing the race by more than a 10-point margin.
And to be precise, Orman has taken only the first step toward getting into the governor's race by forming an exploratory committee and appointing a campaign treasurer so he can begin raising money.
But political experts in Kansas say if he does get in the race, it's unlikely that he can break the grip that the Democratic and Republican parties have on the vast majority of voters in the state, and his candidacy would likely give Republicans an edge that they might not have otherwise.
"If you look at when Democrats and Republicans do their absolute worst in Kansas elections, it looks like about three-fourths of Kansas voters are solidly party voters. They’re going to vote for that Democrat or Republican, seemingly because their name is on the ballot," University of Kansas political science professor Patrick Miller said Wednesday in a phone interview.
In any given statewide race in Kansas, he said, any given Republican candidate has a lock on about 40 percent of the vote. That's how much Republican Jim Barnett received in 2006 when he ran for governor against Kathleen Sebelius. And any given Democrat can count on 30-35 percent, roughly the amount Sen. Tom Holland got when he ran for governor in 2010 against Sam Brownback.
"So his first task is to own that other 25 percent," he said, "which is difficult because most of those people lean to a party. It’s also difficult because your truest independents are also the least politically knowledgeable, they care the least about politics and they’re the least likely to vote. His most natural constituency is the most tuned out."
The next task, Miller said, is for Orman to peel away votes from both the Democratic and Republican candidates, whoever they turn out to be. But his performance in 2014 shows that he is more likely to peel away votes from Democrats than Republicans.
"It was basically a small version of Paul Davis’ run for governor," he said. "If you look at the precinct-level results and the exit polls, it didn’t appear that he had a really unique constituency that wasn’t already voting for Paul Davis."
Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, agreed.
"In my mind there’s no question but that the votes he got against Pat Roberts in 2014 were mostly Democratic votes, with a smattering of independents and moderate Republicans," he said.
According to Smith, and many others, Secretary of State Kris Kobach is currently the odds-on favorite to win the GOP nomination, although Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer could have the power of incumbency, assuming he is elevated to the governor's office before the Aug. 7 primary.
Democrats would likely be happy with either one, because Colyer will be saddled with all the political baggage of the Brownback administration, and, according to polls, Kobach is seen as a highly divisive figure who may have a hard time winning support from independents and moderate Republicans —although, to be fair, people have said that about him going into each of the last two statewide elections that he ended up winning.
So far, three major Democrats have announced plans to run: former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; former Rep. Josh Svaty, of Ellsworth, and House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, the only one in the group who currently holds elected office.
There are, of course, a number of other candidates in the GOP race. But in any circumstance, Democrats will be trying to put together the same kind of coalition with independents and moderate Republicans that carried Sebelius into the governor's office in 2002 and 2006. And Orman's entry into the race makes that more difficult, Miller said, because he can easily be portrayed as a Democrat in disguise.
"He is the only candidate in the race who donated to Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Al Franken, and has a history of support from the Democratic Party," Miller said. "And Pat Roberts spent a lot of money spreading that message about him."