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Orman: Kansas Voter Irritation With Parties Opens My Path To Be Governor

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Greg Orman contends voter frustration with the Republican and Democratic parties could clear his way to winning the Kansas governor's race as an independent.

Four years ago, Greg Orman made an independent and notable challenge to Republican U.S. Pat Roberts’ run for re-election.

Now the wealthy businessman has his sights set on the governor’s office, contending that voter frustration with the two-party system gives him a path to victory in November.

“What is clear to me is that voters want real alternatives,” Orman said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters.

His bid for the governorship holds the potential to alter the dynamics of the general election.

Depending on the analysis you choose, he could capture just enough votes from moderates to sink a Democratic nominee. Alternatively, his appeal to the political middle of the electorate might weaken the eventual Republican candidate and swing the race for a Democrat.

Or, in Orman’s calculus, he could win the race for himself by appealing to voters weary of old party-bound dogma and eager for fresh-slate ideas.

“They want leaders who put their needs ahead of the needs of either major political party,” he said. “They want to actually be able to vote based on a positive vision for the future, not vote against a candidate based on hate and fear and we intend to give them that choice.”

Maybe so, but for the moment, conventional political wisdom holds that Orman’s candidacy could tilt the race to the Republicans if they nominate a conservative such as Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who, like President Donald Trump, commands a solid base of loyal voters.

Orman raised more than $400,000 in a month after setting up a campaign committee in December. That, coupled with his performance in the U.S. Senate race in 2014 that essentially forced the withdrawal of a Democratic challenge to Roberts, makes him a formidable wild card.

In the Senate race, he centered his campaign around the idea that he’d not be beholden to leaders of either party. It’s those politicians, he argued, who gum up the works in the Beltway and block changes in government that most Americans want.

“That desire that we saw in 2014 has only increased in 2018,” Orman said.

Orman’s political positions fell roughly in the middle. He saw no point in trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act when President Barack Obama was still in office, but that he would have opposed its original passage. He wanted increased border security, but also argued for a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally.  He supported access to abortion and same-sex marriage.

After his loss to Roberts, Orman penned the book “Declaration of Independents.”

With his ambitions cast toward Topeka, Orman looks again like a candidate of the center. Though he hasn’t fleshed out a campaign platform, he has joined moderate Republicans and Democrats in condemning Gov. Sam Brownback’s economic policies, in particular the income tax cuts that sent state revenues crashing.

“Governor Brownback’s biggest mistake was not acknowledging when his policy wasn’t working and changing course,” Orman said.

Business leaders, he said, understand the importance of learning from their mistakes.

“Unfortunately that was a lesson and a concept that Governor Brownback apparently never learned,” Orman said.

That was as close as he came to talking policy specifics with reporters Wednesday.

Because he’s never held public office, there’s little to judge him by. He worked for the presidential campaign of President George H.W. Bush — arguably a moderate and certainly an establishment figure far removed from the politics of, say, President Donald Trump. He was also involved in Ross Perot’s bid for the presidency — an outsider’s crusade from decades ago.

Orman’s business career took off when he founded a company that designed energy-efficient lighting for commercial customers. That company later became a subsidiary of Kansas City Power & Light run by Orman. He later started a private equity firm that backed a boxing equipment manufacture and the Ripple glass recycler.

Over the years he’s given money to candidates in both parties, including Obama and Hillary Clinton and Todd Akin, a far-right Republican who lost to Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill after suggesting that rape victims can resist the risk of pregnancy from an attack.

Because he won’t be the nominee of a party, Orman will need to gather the signatures of at least 5,000 registered Kansas voters to get his name on the general election ballot.

Josh Svaty, a former state lawmaker and onetime Kansas agriculture secretary, on Wednesday invited Orman in a news release to join Democratic forums “so that Kansans can compare and contrast his ideas. … I’m sure some of the Republican candidates for governor would make the same offer.”

Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post. 

Jim McLean is a political correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration based at KCUR with other public media stations across Kansas. You can email him at jim@kcur.org.
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