Kansas Governor Mark Parkinson (D) has had a log political career, serving in the Kansas House and  Senate in the 1990′s, later served as the Chair of the Republican Party, became a Democrat to run as Governor Kathleen Sebelius’ Lt. Governor and became Kansas’ 45 Governor on April 28, 2009 when Sebelius left to serve as the Secretary of Health and Human Services for President Obama.
He says that over his 20 years in government, he has become more patient, and that bringing a calm approach to problems helps create solutions.
“There are generally solutions if you pull people together and try and work things out.  Politics is kind of a necessary evil but generally not the way to solve problems”
One of the biggest challenges Parkinson faced as Governor was balancing the budget during the recession, when the state was facing a $500 million shortfall.  He made cuts to state programs in 2009 and when legislators arrived for the session in January, Parkinson told them that he had cut programs to the bone and that the state needed a tax to keep education, public safety, social services and transportation from being decimated.
After months of hearings and many late nights at the capital, a once cent sales tax increase was passed. Parkinson says he felt he served at a critical time that kept Kansas on the right path.
“Every once in a while you find yourself in an usual position where you can make a real difference and I think that’s wheat happened in the last four years,” said Parkinson. “Because of the budget crisis, we found ourselves in a position that if we had lead in a very poor way, the state would have been severely damaged- our schools, our universities, our public safety our infrastructure would have been really damaged.”
Parkinson continued, “I think that because of a coalition of Republicans and Democrats and Independents that just wanted to do the right thing as we worked our way through the recession, we were able to make a real difference.”
Parkinson says that protecting state services is something he is most proud of but also that he and Lt. Governor Troy Findley (D) have developed a bright future for renewable energy and that the Kansas Board of Regents are working on a strategic plan to end the drop in national rankings for schools.
Parkinson says he has seen the political landscape shift during his tenure in Kansas politics, noting that both parties have become more polarized.
“I think that things will change, ebb and flow, but I’m confident that there will never ever be another moderate Republican Governor in Kansas,” said Parkinson. “And the reason I’m comfortable in saying that is because the conservatives have won control of the Republican Party in a very significant way”
“And that’s not condemning the conservatives, they did it fair and square,” Parkinson continued. “There are more of them than there are moderates. I’ve been involved in politics as I said for about 20 years and part of what we do is we do polling and I’ve been able to see folks that identify with various ideologies.”
“Ten, fifteen years ago,” said Parkinson,”about 25% of Kansans would identify themselves as moderate Republicans. That’s now down to less than 10%. What’s happened is that the parties have really polarized. The Republican Party among it’s leadership has become more conservative, the Democratic party among it’s leadership has become more liberal and the middle has been lost.”
Parkinson now heads to Washington DC for a new role as the head of the American Health Care Association, the trade association for the roughly 11,000 nursing homes in the country.
He says he will miss Kansas’ common sense, the good BBQ, and frustration over the Chiefs and the Jayhawks but says that if Kansans keeps on the same path they have traveled in the past, our state will do will in this new century.
“And so when you look at Kansas, we’re centrally located, we have a lot of natural advantages with agriculture, we have an enormous competitive advantage in manufacturing of airplanes because it’s very difficult for competitors to pop up, it’s to expensive.”
We have good infrastructure, good schools, “continued Parkinson, “and so the future can be very bright if we just follow the path that we have followed for the past 150 years in Kansas, which is reasonable investments in education, not wasteful but reasonable, I think we’ll be fine.”