Primary goals: What to watch as summer’s gubernatorial races sizzle

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer answers questions from reporters about a new government transparency law on Thursday in Topeka.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer answers questions from reporters about a new government transparency law on Thursday in Topeka. AP

Gubernatorial candidates were in McPherson on Friday for the All Schools Day parade, an end-of-the-academic-year gathering that honors graduates of area middle schools, high schools and colleges.

Many parents were along the parade route, too, and most had the opportunity to shake the hand of a candidate.

Parades and handshakes, a sure sign it’s time for primary season to heat up with all the makings of a GOP prizefight and a Democratic horse race.

With the Legislative session in the books — we’ll see about another chapter if the Kansas Supreme Court wants lawmakers to give school finance another shot — there are three weeks until the filing deadline and 12 weeks until the Aug. 7 primary.

Remember back when the session started in early January? Sam Brownback was still governor, awaiting a second nomination from President Trump to become ambassador at-large for international religious freedom.

His State of the State speech called for $600 million more in school funding over five years. Usual rhetoric about excessive spending was abandoned for highlights of his nearly two terms in office.

The budget outline Brownback provided smelled like what future Gov. Jeff Colyer would’ve proposed.

Four months later, here we are with Colyer, a Republican governor, signing a five-year, $521 million school-funding formula and finishing the session by signing bills sure to be popular with multiple parts of his primary election constituency. Religious adoption agencies being able to refuse placements to LGBT couples is popular with conservatives, while the K-12 education funding law may appeal to more-moderate Republicans.

Colyer was confident yet not overbearing during the session. We wondered whether he would try to do too much leading and be too eager to show Kansans that he’s comfortable in the governor’s office.

That didn’t happen. Colyer was competent and effective as state government’s leader, refusing to return the bombast of chief primary opponent Kris Kobach, the secretary of state. Colyer hopes that translates into getting the moderate vote — along with a portion of conservative votes — in August.

Kobach was just as busy during the session, but in a Kansas City, Kan., courtroom being roughed up by a U.S. District Court judge. Julie Robinson found Kobach in contempt last month for not registering thousands of voters under her 2016 order.

His guest opinion piece last week on these pages, criticizing the wasteful spending of Kansas Board of Regents for giving outgoing KU chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little $510,000, smacked of irony considering state government will pay his contempt of court fine and attorney fees for the plaintiffs.

That hasn’t kept Kobach and Wichita running mate Wink Hartman from courting conservative voters with themes such as voter fraud, tax cuts, and school accountability and choice.

A Colyer-Kobach primary tussle, with former insurance commissioner Ken Selzer and former state senator Jim Barnett looking for a path to the nomination, will be a summer reality show for Kansans.

The Democratic primary, the first in 20 years, shrunk a bit last week when House minority leader Jim Ward, D-Wichita, dropped out of the race. State Sen. Laura Kelly of Topeka, former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer and former Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty are the remaining front-runners.

None have the statewide appeal that a Democratic frontrunner would normally enjoy. Kelly had 13 years in the Kansas Senate, but her challenge will be to spread her reputation as a leader beyond Topeka.

Brewer has a similar problem becoming a statewide name outside Wichita. Svaty may have the rural advantage but is an anti-abortion advocate — a possible turnoff to some Democrats but a more popular plank for a general election.

Independent Greg Orman, making his second run for office after losing to Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014, continues to stir the pot with general-election “what ifs” as he waits for two primary winners. How he could affect a three-way race — and whether he can win — will be debated until Nov. 6.

Following a legislative session that in many ways lacked the calamitous fireworks that were anticipated, the primary races will make up for them. Kansas is blessed with candidates holding a wide array of views. Responsible Kansans will tell them who moves on to November by staying informed and getting to the polls Aug. 7.