TOPEKA — Calling Sam Brownback's election as Kansas' next governor premature, Kansas Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a candidate of their own: Tom Wiggans, a retired Olathe pharmaceutical executive.
Wiggans, 57, is a political newcomer largely unknown in the state he hopes to lead. A native of Fredonia, he returned to Kansas in January after a prominent career in the pharmaceutical industry in California. He is so far the only major Democratic candidate in the race.
Wiggans filed paperwork Tuesday allowing him to raise money for the 2010 race. He declined to comment publicly on his campaign, instead e-mailing a statement to reporters.
"Now more than ever as our state and our families deal with this difficult economic climate, we need a successful business leader in the Governor's office," Wiggans said in the statement."... Our state needs a Governor who can speak the language of business, jobs and prosperity — not a career politician."
Wiggans enters the race after two prominent Democrats, Gov. Mark Parkinson and state party chairman Larry Gates, opted not to run. Brownback, who's leaving the U.S. Senate, is the leading Republican candidate for the job.
Republicans said Democrats were desperate to find a willing candidate with the personal wealth to fund a campaign. They noted that Wiggans contributed thousands of dollars to Republican candidates while living in California and raised questions about his dedication to the Sunflower State.
"It is hard to imagine Kansas Democrats would actually nominate for governor someone who has never voted in a Kansas election," said Amanda Adkins, chairwoman of the Republican Party.
Wiggans began his pharmaceutical career after graduating from the University of Kansas. He serves on multiple state economic development boards and is a member of the KU Endowment Board of Trustees.
Wiggans is married to Kathryn Wiggans, a nurse. The couple have two teenage daughters.
A search of federal campaign contributions shows Wiggans has contributed over the years to both Democrats and Republicans, including former President George W. Bush, presidential contender Rudy Giuliani and the Republican National Committee.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Wiggans should appeal to voters more interested in results than partisanship. He said Wiggans' lack of name recognition, his support for Republicans and his recent arrival in Kansas shouldn't hurt him.
"There are a lot of moderate Republicans looking for an alternative to Sam Brownback," Hensley said. "This is the guy."