Senate President Susan Wagle is weighing a run for governor along with a run for Congress.
Wagle, a Wichita Republican, had already been considering a primary challenge of U.S. Rep. Ron Estes. But she said Monday she is also thinking about a bid for governor.
If Wagle enters the governor’s race, she would be one of the most prominent Republicans to run so far. She would be the second elected official in the race, after Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Other Republican candidates are physician Jim Barnett, businessman Wink Hartman and Ed O’Malley, businessman and president of the Kansas Leadership Center.
“There’s a desire out there for stability in state government and leadership. We’ve had a rocky road for the last few years, we’ve been walking down a rocky road, and I think people are looking for a leader who can manage the budget, can manage the Legislature and put forth a vision for Kansas,” Wagle said.
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Wagle, as Senate president, is one of the most powerful state lawmakers. She has experienced several moments of tension this year with Gov. Sam Brownback over his budget proposal, which she criticized.
Her positions have put her at odds at times with this year’s more-moderate Legislature, but also with more conservative lawmakers.
Wagle did not vote for the bill that increased income tax rates in order to raise $1.2 billion over the next two years. She also voted against the successful override of Brownback’s veto of the bill. She did support repealing a tax exemption for certain business income, which was included in the tax bill.
Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said the Republican race lacks a candidate who can bridge the gap between moderates and more conservative members of the party. Wagle or Barnett could possibly fill that role, he suggested.
Mark Hutton, a Wichita businessman who said last week he is considering a run, would also possibly be someone who could bridge that gap, Miller said.
Wagle helped enable the 2012 tax cuts but she has also been critical of Brownback, Miller said. That would offer both advantages and disadvantages.
“On her record, she is very much a Brownback Republican. The challenge for a Democrat – should she win the nomination, of course – is dealing with the image she portrays,” Miller said.
On the congressional side, people close to Wagle first spoke of a run after Estes’ relatively narrow victory in April.
Estes won by 7 percentage points over Democrat James Thompson. It was the smallest margin of victory for a Republican in the district in more than a decade. Mike Pompeo won re-election to the seat by 30 points in November before leaving to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
The election is in November 2018, with primary elections set for August 2018. Announced Democratic candidates for governor are former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former state agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty.