18 and counting: Kansas governor's race draws record field

Posted at 9:54 AM, Oct 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-16 10:54:05-04

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas has a record number of candidates for the early stages of a 2018 governor's race with even high school students joining the elected officials and prominent business figures voters would normally expect.

Eighteen candidates — 11 Republicans, six Democrats and an independent — have appointed treasurers or committees for a campaign next year, a requirement to raise money. More could be coming: The Libertarian Party is expected to have a nominee, and another independent candidate may get into the race.

The current number tops the previous record of 16 on the primary and general election ballots in 1964. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback is term-limited but is expected to step down this fall anyway to become U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.

"There are people who see this as a very wide open race," said Patrick Miller, a University of Kansas assistant political science professor. "There's not a lot of cost, so why not stick your name out there, see how you are perceived by voters and how you do with fundraising?"

No women are running yet, though Miller said he doesn't see a clear reason, other than "just an accident of individual decisions."

Candidates can raise money and campaign for months before submitting papers for a guaranteed spot on the ballot. The filing deadline for the Democratic and Republican primaries is June 1, and other candidates must file by Aug. 6.

The fee for governor-lieutenant governor teams is $2,207 but it drops to $670 if candidates gather signatures from 5,000 registered voters. Independent candidates must gather the signatures.

"That's when we know who's serious," said Kansas Republican Party Chairman Kelly Arnold, who nevertheless expects five or six "good options" for GOP voters.

The field includes four high school students, when one would be unusual. Jack Bergeson, a Wichita Democrat, was first in, and stories about him this summer highlighted the lack of a minimum age to run for governor in Kansas. Three Republican

teenagers later formed committees: Tyler Ruzich, of Prairie Village; Ethan Randleas, of Wichita, and Dominic Scavuzzo, of Leawood.

Since Kansas started holding primaries in 1908, the governor's race has averaged seven candidates total on primary and general election ballots. The number exceeded 10 in 1994, 1964 and 1922. Both major parties saw their biggest primary fields in 1964: eight Republicans and six Democrats, though Democrats also had six in 1934.

Republicans are split now over Brownback's policies, particularly aggressive individual income tax cuts that were rolled back by bipartisan legislative majorities earlier this year following persistent budget problems.

Brownback's expected departure this fall will automatically elevate Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer to governor, and he is seeking a full, four-year term in 2018. But Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political scientist, said Brownback is unpopular enough that having an heir apparent isn't enough to discourage other Republicans.

The Republicans include Secretary of State Kris Kobach; Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer; Wink Hartman, a Wichita oil company owner; former state Rep. Mark Hutton, of Wichita; former state Sen. Jim Barnett, a Topeka doctor, and the party's 2006 nominee for governor; Former state Rep. Ed O'Malley, CEO of the nonprofit Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita; and Patrick Kucera, a Leawood businessman and evangelist.

Democratic candidates include Kansas House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita; former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty, of Ellsworth, ex-Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and Arden Andersen, an Olathe physician. Robert Klingenberg, a 27-year-old Salina salesman, entered the race last week.

"There's a high level interest in politics, of getting involved, on both sides," said Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat.

A Topeka-area minister, Richard Kloos, is running as an independent. And Olathe businessman Greg Orman, an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, is considering an independent run for governor.


Editor's note: This story has been corrected to show that Kansas started holding primary elections in 1908, not 1910.