Although the general election is more than 14 months away, it’s already clear that the gubernatorial race in Kansas will be a dramatic and unique contest. With the recent news of former Wichita Rep. Mark Hutton’s pending announcement, the field will grow to 11 candidates — seven Republicans and four Democrats. That’s more candidates than the governor’s race typically produces in Kansas, and the Democrats are getting ready for what will be their first primary in two decades. Kansans will have a lot of research to do before November 2018.
Burdett Loomis is a political science professor at the University of Kansas, and he says this election is “as confusing as I’ve ever seen it” this early in the process. Washburn University professor Bob Beatty makes a similar point, noting that voters will have a more difficult time distinguishing between the candidates because party labels alone won’t give them enough information. Despite these issues, Kansans should be pleased that there’s such a large and dynamic field of candidates vying to become governor. As a few of the candidates have pointed out, this suggests that our democratic system remains competitive and robust.
Ed O’Malley argues that the increased competition will “bring out the best in everyone” and produce more substantive debates about policy: “The more crowded the race, the more candidates will have to refine their ideas and their vision.” Former Wichita mayor Carl Brewer agrees: “I think it’s excellent because I think to voters — as I said, it gives them that opportunity to be much more informed.” Ken Selzer says the Republican primary will be “healthy for democracy” because it forces candidates to contend with a broader range of ideas. Beatty explains that there will also be more debates and forums to help voters make a decision.
While it will be difficult for Kansans to gain a thorough understanding of individual candidates in such a crowded field, O’Malley, Brewer and Selzer are right. The gubernatorial race will be enriched by so many different perspectives — candidates will be forced to articulate exactly what makes them stand out from their competitors, and they’ll have to do so in a concise and accessible way. Moreover, former Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty was right when he said the ever-expanding group of candidates demonstrates an “interest in change” among Kansas voters.
The most notable fact about the 2018 election is the opportunity it presents. The 2017 Legislature was a powerful repudiation of Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies, and voters will soon have a chance to reaffirm their commitment to a new era in Kansas politics. Not only did lawmakers discard Brownback’s collapsing economic experiment at the behest of their constituents, but they also passed Medicaid expansion — a measure that was just short of the votes required to override the governor’s veto. Kansans should keep up this momentum going into 2018.
While it’s too early to know what positions all the candidates will take on these issues, major divisions are already evident. For example, Secretary of State Kris Kobach describes the abandonment of Brownback’s tax cuts as “disastrous,” while House Minority Leader Jim Ward was one of the most outspoken supporters of the bill that repealed them. A chasm this wide demonstrates how consequential this election will be, and we’re eager to see what other debates will emerge over the next 14 months.
Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.