It didn't appear on the ballot, but the unbuilt Sunflower coal plant near Holcomb may have been a winner Tuesday.
In a surprise move, Gov. Mark Parkinson ousted the official who had blocked construction of the plant in western Kansas.
The removal of Rod Bremby, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, increases Sunflower's chances of being built, environmentalists and others said.
"There isn't anyone in the state who doesn't know what this was about," said Scott Allegrucci, executive director of the Great Plains Alliance for Clean Energy. The alliance, a nonprofit, was formed soon after the coal plant controversy erupted in 2006.
Parkinson has denied that Bremby's removal was linked in any way to the coal plant project. Instead, Parkinson said he wanted Bremby to take a transition Cabinet director position leading up to the inauguration of Gov.-elect Sam Brownback.
Bremby declined and his replacement was named Tuesday.
Bruce Nilles, deputy conservation director for the national Sierra Club, said Tuesday's firing was a shrewd move on Parkinson's part.
"Unbelievable," Nilles said, comparing it to the "Saturday night massacre" when President Nixon dismissed the independent special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal.
Sunflower needs a construction permit approved this year before new environmental laws kick in, making the plant more costly to build.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he understood why Parkinson would ask for Bremby's resignation if the governor was eager to advance construction of the coal plant. But Hensley said it's still unfortunate.
"Rod Bremby felt strongly about his role in being the environmental regulator and I applaud the job that he did," Hensley said. "He stood for what he believed in and that's admirable."
House Speaker Mike O'Neal, however, said Parkinson was right to oust Bremby.
"A governor not only has the right but the responsibility to have Cabinet secretaries that will advance their policies," the Hutchinson Republican said.
Bremby, O'Neal said, "was obviously at odds with Gov. Parkinson over a key economic development and energy project."
Environmental groups reported their concerns to the Environmental Protection Agency two months ago about Parkinson possibly pressuring Bremby to expedite the permit process.
Bremby was not available for comment Wednesday.
Originally, Sunflower planned to build three plants with 2,100 megawatts of electricity. Most of the electricity was never meant to be used in Kansas, whose customers do not need it.
In 2007, Bremby rejected Sunflower's permit application because it did not address carbon dioxide emissions, which Bremby considered a public health risk.
Then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius twice vetoed legislation that would have allowed Sunflower to move ahead with its plans. Parkinson was lieutenant governor and Sebelius' point man on the issue.
But in 2009, Sebelius was selected by President Obama to head the U.S. Health and Human Services Department, and Parkinson became governor.
Parkinson held meetings with Sunflower officials and then announced an agreement: Sunflower would build only one 850-megawatt plant. Still, much of that electricity would go out of state.
The agreement, which was approved by the Legislature, also stripped Bremby of his discretion on health concerns that he used in 2007 to reject the plants.
"Parkinson was leading the charge for the Sebelius administration," said Nilles, who, with the Sierra Club, has been involved in the negotiations over the power plant and has filed lawsuits to block the plant.
Now, Nilles said, "he has just gone off the deep end."
Amy Jordan Wooden, Parkinson's spokeswoman, said Nilles' comment was "a ridiculous accusation, which doesn't warrant a response."
Sunflower had planned to move ahead and build the plant, but the EPA ordered the corporation to apply for a new air quality permit. Sunflower did that in January.
Meanwhile, Tri State Generation, the Colorado utility that had been pushing hard for the new plant, is keeping its options open.
Jim Van Someren, a Tri State spokesman, said Tuesday that there is no current need for the electricity but that there might be a need in the future.
"Our board has not made a final decision," he said. "We are staying abreast of that decisions and active with Sunflower to some degree."
So far, Tri State has spent $51 million developing the plant in Holcomb, excluding the cost of the purchase of land and water rights, according to its 2009 annual report.
Karl Brooks, EPA Region VII administrator, has written to environmental groups that EPA was watching the situation closely.
"EPA is concerned that the laws and regulations be totally adhered to," Rich Hood, associate regional administrator, said Wednesday.