TOPEKA — From lawmakers’ desks to their lapels, the Shockers’ black-and-yellow gear peppers a Capitol known mostly for political shades of red with a splash of blue.
The Shockers are one of the few things that appear to have bipartisan support around here these days, perhaps exemplified best by Wichita Reps Tom Sawyer, a Democrat, and Phil Hermanson, a Republican, sporting the same bright-gold Ron Baker T-shirts over their dress shirts in the opulent House of Representatives Chamber.
Even Kansas State University and University of Kansas graduate Gov. Sam Brownback is bragging on the home-state Shockers.
“I love the Wu-Shockers. What an exciting Cinderella story!” Brownback said as he wandered the hallways of the Statehouse after chatting with lobbyists about creating a charity event where people could shoot baskets from one of the Capitol’s upper floors down to a barrel on the ground floor.
The Final Four offers a chance to promote the state under the national spotlight.
“It’s a great mascot of the state of Kansas – Wheat Shockers,” Brownback said.
Brownback plans to fly to Atlanta on the state’s eight-seat plane with Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and her husband; Rep. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, and his wife; Brownback spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag; and security staff.
First Lady Mary Brownback flew to Atlanta earlier – the couple has a tradition of attending Final Fours even when Kansas teams don’t make it.
It’s unclear how many other lawmakers are Final Four-bound.
Shocker madness is nothing new in the Capitol, although it often gets overshadowed by the Jayhawks.
South-central Kansas lawmakers regularly convene in a lobbyist’s office suite a few blocks from the Statehouse for watch parties in a board room. And, yes, it’s invite-only with minimal business chat and a bit of rambunctiousness.
Rep. Steve Brunk, R-Wichita, recalls Wichita-area politicos marching out of a droning budget debate to watch the Shockers play in the 2011 NIT championship in the comfort of the lobbying firm office. He points out that lawmakers hardly work at all when the Jayhawks play critical games.
Wichita Sen. Michael O’Donnell introduced a bill earlier in the year that would require the Jayhawks and Wildcats to play the Shockers at least once a year.
On April Fools’ Day, he said he’s gotten a lot of heat for that – no joke there – and he jokingly suggested that WSU asked him to withdraw the proposal because it is looking for tougher competition than KU and K-State.
Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, meanwhile, dished his April Fools’ Day joke by suggesting the state ban WSU from spending tax money to support the team’s trip to Atlanta.