Former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer picked a symbolic location to launch his bid for governor on Monday – the Hotel at Old Town – setting the tone for a community activist campaign contrasting with the small-government philosophy that has dominated Kansas politics during Gov. Sam Brownback’s six years in office.
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“The building that we’re standing in today is a great example of community partnerships,” Brewer said. “This hotel used to be a polluted Superfund site with a very grim future. But with collaboration from local, state and federal agencies, we resulted in a thriving entertainment district that has revitalized our downtown.”
Brewer said the state is now facing the same kind of challenges Wichita faced in building up Old Town.
“The state’s financial future – the forecast is very dark and cloudy,” Brewer said. “Poor decisions over the past six years have left Kansans very wary about the state. Funding for public schools has been seriously compromised. Other vital state responsibilities such as transportation, social services, public safety are also under great financial stress.
“I have the experience and I have the passion to get the great state of Kansas back on track,” Brewer said.
Brewer, 59, made the announcement Monday morning in Wichita. He also had stops scheduled in Topeka and Kansas City, Kan.
A Democrat, Brewer retired at the beginning of this month from a job in government relations with Spirit AeroSystems to devote himself full time to the campaign.
Beyond the Democratic staple issues of schools and transportation, Brewer said he expects new issues to emerge as he criss-crosses parts of the state where he’s not as well known.
He said the campaign will focus on “direct communication and finding out what are your needs, what are your wants, and let them (voters) tell you themselves, as opposed to suspecting or guessing.”
Brewer named Ron Holt, a former assistant Sedgwick County manager and former president of Kansas Gas and Electric, as his campaign treasurer.
A fairly crowded field of candidates is expected for next year’s race, because Gov. Sam Brownback, currently serving his second term, cannot seek re-election due to term limits.
That means the seat will be wide open if Brownback finishes his current term. If he doesn’t, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer would move up and could run as the incumbent.
Brewer’s entry into the race is expected to set up the first Democratic primary for governor since 1998.
Paul Davis, a former House minority leader from Lawrence, is considering a second run for governor after narrowly losing to Brownback in 2014. Also eyeing a possible Democratic run is Josh Svaty, who served seven years in the state Legislature and about 1 1/2 years as state agriculture secretary under Gov. Mark Parkinson.
In addition to Colyer, Republicans whose names have surfaced as potential candidates include Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, U.S. Reps. Lynn Jenkins and Kevin Yoder, Senate President Susan Wagle, former state legislator Ed O’Malley and Wichita businessman Wink Hartman.
Brewer noted that he began his political career as a community activist, chairing a citizens’ advisory board.
From there, he went on to represent Wichita’s 1st District as a City Council member for six years. He served two terms as Wichita mayor, from 2007 until 2015, when he was out because of term limits.
Brewer claimed credit for leading the city through the recession that hit the country during his second year in office.
“I heard what citizens said and, as a result, the city of Wichita survived through those tough times, without compromising the core services of public safety and our infrastructure,” he said. “And we did it without raising property taxes or putting the city’s financial future at risk.”