Kansas Democrats could have their first gubernatorial primary in 20 years when both parties choose candidates to succeed Gov. Sam Brownback next year.
Former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty said he is weighing a possible run for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018.
“I would say I’m taking a far closer look at it now than I was four years ago,” Svaty said in an interview Tuesday.
Svaty is one of at least three Democrats contemplating a 2018 run. The others are the party’s 2014 nominee Paul Davis, who lost to Brownback by 4 percentage points after a hard-fought race, and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
If at least two of them run, it’ll be the Kansas Democratic Party’s first primary for governor since 1998, when Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, easily defeated anti-gay Topeka preacher Fred Phelps for the party’s nomination. Sawyer went on to lose to Republican Gov. Bill Graves in the general election.
Davis was unopposed for the nomination in 2014, and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius faced no primary opponent during her two successful campaigns.
“I think that a primary, in general, is a healthy thing,” Svaty said. “You never want to feel like you’re clearing the field for someone that has been hand-selected. And it’s healthy for a party to make a choice.”
He noted that former Democratic Gov. John Carlin faced a primary in 1978 before being elected to his first term as governor.
Svaty, an Ellsworth Democrat, served seven years in the Kansas House before being tapped to head up the state’s Department of Agriculture in 2009 by Gov. Mark Parkinson.
He went on to work as a senior adviser in the Kansas City office of the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees environmental policy in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa, from 2011 to 2013. He now oversees operations of his family’s farm in Ellsworth County.
His wife, Kimberly Svaty, is a lobbyist for the Wind Coalition, a group that represents the wind power industry.
The Republican field is even more crowded.
Wichita oil magnate and major Republican donor Wink Hartman said Tuesday that he is considering a run.
“A lot of friends, political acquaintances have suggested I run, but at this point no decision’s been made,” Hartman said. “I’m reviewing the possibilities … and seeing what some of the other possible contenders are going to do.”
Hartman mounted a campaign for the 4th Congressional District in 2010, losing to Mike Pompeo, who recently ascended to the post of CIA director under President Trump. Hartman said the most pressing issue facing the state is the “the total inability of the Legislature to rein in spending.”
Hartman is one of several prominent Republicans actively considering a run.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who had been mentioned for positions in President Trump’s administration, said he will make a decision on whether to run in the near future. Attorney General Derek Schmidt has also said he’s weighing a run.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, has not ruled out a run. Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer and Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, have not talked about their plans but have not ruled out running.
Former state Rep. Ed O’Malley has formed an exploratory committee.
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, who had been seen as an early favorite in the race, announced last week that she would not run for any office in 2018.
Kelly Arnold, the state chair of the Kansas Republican Party, said some of the candidates looking at a gubernatorial run, such as Kobach and Schmidt, might seek Jenkins’ congressional seat instead. If Yoder makes a gubernatorial run, that will open an additional congressional seat.
He compared the situation to 2010 when Brownback gave up his U.S. Senate seat to run for governor.
“It’ll be interesting times for Kansas in 2018, and as a party we will be well-prepared for that,” Arnold said.