Democrats Face Quandary with Sebelius Not in Kansas Anymore

Strange but true: Soon, there will be four Democrats in Kansas holding statewide elected offices, but none of those people will have been elected to ...
by | March 4, 2009
 

Strange but true: Soon, there will be four Democrats in Kansas holding statewide elected offices, but none of those people will have been elected to the office in which they serve.

Assuming Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is confirmed as secretary of Health and Human Services, Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson will become governor. He'll appoint a new lieutenant governor. Sebelius appointed the state attorney general, Steve Six, to office after his predecessor resigned in a sex scandal. The governor also appointed State Treasurer Dennis McKinney to office after the old treasurer, a Republican, was elected to Congress.

That all leaves Kansas Democrats in an unusual position heading into 2010. They have lots of statewide officeholders, but no proven vote-getters. Parkinson was elected on a ticket with the popular Sebelius in 2006.

Both Six and McKinney say they're inclined to seek a full-term at the offices they currently hold. If they win, they'll help Kansas Democrats build the bench they currently lack. But, those decisions don't solve the party's immediate challenge, which is finding candidates for the governor's race and the open Senate seat.

Parkinsonflags300 The obvious choice for governor, of course, would be Parkinson, except that earlier this year he said something almost never heard from a lieutenant governor: He doesn't want to be governor. Or, more precisely, he said that he doesn't want to run for governor in 2010.

That was before the Sebelius appointment, leading Democrats to hope for a change of heart, as the Lawrence Journal-World reports:

But now that Sebelius' fortunes have changed, Democrats are urging Parkinson to reconsider, saying that running as the incumbent governor will improve his chances. Republicans have at least two high-profile statewide elected officials looking at the governor's race: U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh.

If Parkinson doesn't change his mind, it's pretty easy to imagine Kansas Democrats ending up in the same position in 2010 that Pennsylvania Republicans faced in 2002. That's when Mark Schweiker, the popular governor (who had taken office when Tom Ridge joined the Bush cabinet), decided he didn't want to try for a full term. The only person who could have held the office for the Republicans happened to be the person already in the office, but, nonetheless, he just wasn't interested.

Update: When I wrote this post, I hadn't read more recent comments from Parkinson. Here's what the Topeka Capital-Journal reported:

Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, destined to become governor upon the resignation of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, affirmed today that he would not seek the job in 2010.

Parkinson is under pressure from Democrats to reconsider his pledge to step away from the political arena in two years.

"I'm not running for office in 2010," Parkinson said during a news conference.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

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