Independent Candidate in Kansas Underscores a Broken Political System

October 30, 2018 by Mary Sanchez
Greg Orman, then an independent candidate for senate, had his picture taken with a supporter after his debate with Sen. Pat Roberts at the Kansas State Fair on Sept. 6, 2014 in Hutchinson, Kan. He is currently running for governor of Kansas.

Kathleen Sebelius might as well be spitting into the Kansas wind.

Don’t try this. People who have stood against the blistering gales of the prairie can attest to the futility.

And yet Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and U.S. secretary of health and human services, is hopeful that a popular third-party candidate will withdraw from the Kansas governor’s race. It’s not going to happen.

The candidate in question, businessman Greg Orman, is projected by the political forecasting site Fivethirtyeight to garner just over 11 percent of the vote on Election Day. That is a serious amount of support for an independent. And it leaves the two major party contenders, state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, and Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican, with support levels well short of a majority of likely voters.

Orman has virtually no chance of winning. Polls have been split fairly evenly between Kelly and Kobach, although at the moment Fivethirtyeight shows Kobach in a slight lead. That accounts for Sebelius’ concern.

“Greg Orman could elect Kris Kobach governor,” Sebelius has said to various media and other groups while campaigning for Kelly, a personal friend whom she convinced to run.

Sebelius’ efforts to elicit fear among voters of a Kobach governorship will certainly find a receptive audience. Kobach is a demagogue of the worst sort, an innovator of voter suppression techniques and an avatar of the bogus outrage over supposed voter fraud, not to mention his frequent demonizing of immigrants.

But expecting Orman to withdraw supposedly for the good of the state misunderstands the reasons that he got into politics in the first place.

He’s by no means a neophyte or dilettante. He helped found a group called the Common Sense Coalition for Change back in 2010, putting out position papers with more centrist views on a range of issues, critical of hyper-partisanship. In 2016, after failing two years earlier to unseat U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, he published the book, “A Declaration of Independents.” The subtitle captures a high-minded goal, albeit one that currently seems unattainable: “How We Can Break the Two-Party Stranglehold and Restore the American Dream.”

Orman would be betraying his longstanding views if he abandoned this year’s governor’s race. He would undercut his argument that mediocrity in government is sealed by campaigns where voters don’t choose the candidate they believe is most qualified but rather the one who scares them the least.

That describes too many Kansas voters this go round.

The conventional wisdom is that Orman’s candidacy is pulling votes from the Democrat, Kelly. But in the further reaches of the state, rural areas like Southwest Kansas, there are some indications that lifelong Republicans can’t stomach the idea of Kobach as governor but are too party-loyal to vote for Kelly. They might peel off from the GOP to back Orman.

The Democrats would have been smart to figure out a way to encourage such a scenario in campaign ads.

The problem for Sebelius and other Democrats who wish to see Orman throw support to Kelly is that he doesn’t need or want any political deal they might dangle. Did I mention that he’s rich? And his whole image has been built upon being an antagonist to the two-party system.

He’ll be perfectly content to recede after a defeat to enjoy life with his two young daughters and his wife, and to continue growing businesses.

So, a harsh truth comes into view: The Kansas governorship will not be won by the candidate that a majority of the voters truly believe will do the best job.

The threat of Kobach as governor is a strong motivator, one that he’s earned through various antics through the years. Moderate voters from both major parties believe that, if elected, he will continue the disastrous tax-cutting policies of former Gov. Sam Brownback. Yet not enough people are fully in the camp of Kelly either.

Democrats and Republicans will be opting for their least offensive option. And they don’t view an independent as viable.

Which is exactly the scenario that Orman and so many others who study politics see as the defect of our political system at every level of government.

On November 6, Kansans will prove a philosophical point, and the election will be a loss to Kansas no matter who wins.

Readers can reach Mary Sanchez at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @msanchezcolumn.



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