“He’s going to run, right?”
“He’s going to run, right?”
It never stops. I’ve been hearing it for over a year, from all types of people in all types of situations. In Wal-Mart, where a man came up to me and said, “Hey, you’re the guy who talks about politics on TV? He’s gonna run, right?” In the grocery store where a woman walked up to me in the dairy section and proclaimed, “Of course he’s running…right?” After a Rotary Club speech, where someone took me aside and whispered in my ear, “Obama is going to call him. He wouldn’t turn down Obama, right?”
No, no, wrong, and yes, looks like he would. Because Governor Mark Parkinson is not running for governor.
This fact has puzzled a lot of people. At first it befuddled them because lack of ambition is not a typical – or even desirable, one might argue - trait among politicians. Our democracy is based on people wanting to represent us, explaining their plans during an election campaign and then being held responsible for their performance by the electorate. To go through that very public process requires ambition. But now that he’s been in office for almost a year, his consistent “no” has turned into the mysterious case of Mark Parkinson. It has his supporters scratching their heads and thinking he should run – and the case they make indeed does seem strong.
First, he has taken to the part so well you might think he was sent to Kansas from a Hollywood casting agency. At 6’ 5” he not only is the tallest Kansas governor ever, but when he enters a room, he commands the type of attention a governor should. This is not insignificant, for as former governor Bill Graves told me, “You need to always remember that people value and find the interaction with the governor to be a very special moment. So you need to keep reminding yourself that that's part of your job.” Parkinson also knows how to impress a crowd, even one as tough as a room full of legislators. Both times that the governor has addressed joint sessions of the Kansas House and Senate – April 30, 2009 and Jan. 11, 2010 – he delivered his 25-minute speeches from memory. What governor – anywhere – does that? Congressman Mike Honda was “spellbound” by Parkinson’s speech at the Kansas Democrats Washington Days gathering last month and mused that California could use a gubernatorial candidate like him.
But beyond the “Head of State” role that Parkinson seems to wear so well is the experience he has gained as the chief decision-maker for a state facing some of its greatest fiscal challenges in modern memory. Since taking office the governor has brokered a deal allowing a coal-fueled power plant to be built in western Kansas, made hundreds of millions of dollars in creative recissions to the state budget, helped work out a plan that could bring a major league soccer team and thousands of jobs to Wyandotte County, and has made proposals to the legislature that run the gamut from tax increases, reduction of tax exemptions, and painful budget cuts. In short, in the past year, Parkinson has received priceless on-the-job training in governing the state of Kansas.
Finally, one more thing adds to this mystery: The governor’s keen sense of vision and historical “moment” contrasts sharply with his decision not to compete for a chance to lead the state for a full four-year term. In his speech last April, Parkinson focused heavily on what the state should look like in 20 years and quoted Winston Churchill, saying that “History will be kind to me because I intend to write it.” For a growing number of Mark Parkinson’s adherents there’s a real question as to why he’s not willing to try to write more than just 20 months of Kansas’ history.
Dr. Bob Beatty is a political scientist and political analyst for KSNT-27 News in Topeka.