Politics & Government

Gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis names Jill Docking as running mate

Former Senate candidate Jill Docking speaks to a crowd during DemoFest 2013 at the Holiday Inn on South Rock Road on Saturday. DemoFest is an annual gathering of Kansas Democrats. (Aug. 17, 2013)
Former Senate candidate Jill Docking speaks to a crowd during DemoFest 2013 at the Holiday Inn on South Rock Road on Saturday. DemoFest is an annual gathering of Kansas Democrats. (Aug. 17, 2013) File photo

Rep. Paul Davis, the House minority leader and Democratic candidate for governor, officially announced Tuesday that Wichita businesswoman Jill Docking will be running with him for lieutenant governor.

The announcement, which came via social media at about 8 a.m. Tuesday, ended weeks of buildup and speculation that Docking would be joining the ticket.

Docking works as a financial adviser and is a former chairwoman of the Board of Regents, the panel that runs the state university system. Davis represents Lawrence in the state House.

The pair rolled out the announcement in a tour of Kansas in a rented school bus. About 200 supporters turned out for a rally at West Douglas Park in Wichita Tuesday evening.

The campaign’s No. 1 issue is education funding and Davis told the crowd that the campaign tour didn’t pick a school bus because it was a comfortable way to travel.

“It is a symbol about who we are fighting for in this campaign,” Davis told the crowd.

“We’ve had a wonderful day, but man it is good to be home,” added Docking, who was greeted by cheers of “Jill! Jill! Jill!”

She said in contrast to Gov. Sam Brownback, a conservative who helped unseat moderates in his own party, Davis would work bring Kansans of different political stripes together. The candidates’ remarks were repeatedly laced with the terms “moderate” and “common sense.”

“He’s willing to sit down and reason with anyone,” Docking said.

Davis and Docking are hoping to triangulate Brownback and win significant enough support among moderate Republicans and independents to offset the governor’s hold on the right wing of his party.

State Republican leaders sought to tie Davis and Docking to President Obama, who lost Kansas in both of his presidential runs.

Initially, they issued a statement saying that both of the Democratic candidates had been Obama delegates to the Democratic National Convention – which is not true in Docking’s case.

Later, state Republican Chairman Kelly Arnold clarified that in 2008, Docking was co-chair of a Kansas leadership committee for Obama consisting primarily of Democratic state officials.

Arnold said that makes her “an even more prominent supporter of Obama than the position as delegate.”

Assuming they win the Democratic nomination, Davis and Docking will likely face the incumbent Republican Brownback and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer in the November 2014 general election.

Docking lost a Senate race to Brownback in 1996. The election was stained with anonymous anti-Semitic phone calls and fake opinion polls attacking Docking for being Jewish – a line of attack that Brownback disavowed any involvement with.

Docking said she’s prepared for more campaign roughness if it comes this time around, but said she hopes the race stays on a higher plane.

“We won’t make it personal and hope Gov. Brownback runs a campaign that’s issue-oriented,” she said.

The Democrats argue that the conservative Brownback administration and its like-minded majorities in the House and Senate have cut too deeply into operating funds for schools, endangering the educations of Kansas children.

“As a former chair of the Kansas Board of Regents, she (Docking) shares my commitment to excellence in our schools,” Davis said in a statement.

The Docking name has been a prominent Democratic dynasty in Kansas politics for decades. Docking’s husband Tom, a lawyer, served as lieutenant governor in the 1980s and his father, Robert, and grandfather, George, both served as Kansas governor.

In the early stages of the campaign season, Jill Docking was frequently named by prominent Democrats as their best hope to unseat Brownback because of her name recognition and ability to raise money. She declined to seek the top of the ticket.

Former state Rep. William Kassebaum, a moderate Republican, is serving as the campaign’s treasurer, linking the Davis campaign to another Kansas political dynasty.

Kassebaum’s mother, Nancy Landon Kassebaum, served as a U.S. senator from Kansas and his grandfather was former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, the Republican presidential nominee who lost to Franklin Roosevelt in the 1936 election.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle