Ever since Barack Obama tapped Governor Kathleen Sebelius as HHS Secretary, Kansas Democrats have been at a loss: Who can they run in next year’s open gubernatorial and senatorial races? The obvious response would have been Sebelius’s Lieutenant Governor Mark Parkinson: Now Governor, he would be able to run as an incumbent, boosting Democrats’ chance to hold on to a vulnerable seat. But Parkinson has made it clear that he wants to join the private sector in 2011.
Democrats have no other clear candidates to run. While Treasurer Dennis McKinney and Attorney General Stephen Six are Democrats, they were recently appointed to their posts by Sebelius and both will have a hard enough time running for re-election; Sebelius can no longer run for Senate since she is in the Cabinet; Rep. Dennis Moore will not leave his House seat; and former Rep. Jim Slattery has ruled out a run.
The party had one hope left: Parkinson had to choose a new Lieutenant Governor, and Democrats hoped he would elevate an up-and-coming politician that would be able to use that prominent position to build name recognition, introduce himself to voters and look formidable enough to be a credible 2010 candidate. Frankly, that might have been the Democrats’ only shot at keeping the Governor’s mansion - not to mention any hope they still harbor to mount a competitive Senate run.
But Parkinson did no such thing. Yesterday, he picked Troy Findley, Sebelius’s former chief of staff. (The pick was described as a surprise by the local press.) Findley immediately declared that he would not run in 2010, making himself a lame-duck within minutes of his appointment and disappointing increasingly desperate Democrats.
To recap, then: Kansas had a popular Democratic Governor who could have been a formidable Senate candidate but a Democratic White House got her to join the Cabinet instead. Now, the state has a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Lieutenant Governor, both of whom are not barred by term limits and could coast to the Democratic nomination of whichever race they choose. Yet, neither will run for anything next year. Talk about a party shooting itself in the foot!
The culprit here seems to be Sebelius rather than Parkinson. Until he was tapped as Sebelius’s running mate in 2006, Parkinson was a partisan Republican: Not only did he serve as a GOP state legislator from 1991 to 1997, he was also the Chairman of the Kansas Republican Party from 1999 to 2003. While he calls himself a Democrat ever since he became candidate for Lieutenant Governor, he is presumably not interested in helping rebuild the state’s Democratic Party. If Sebelius had been interested in that herself, it might have been a wise choice to elevate as Lieutenant Governor a politician from her own party.