It was a luncheon banquet similar to dozens. Ranch or Italian dressing, then the entrée. I serve on the Board of a substance abuse prevention concern and we’re handing out awards to assorted do-gooders to reward the good they’ve done since last we gathered for the rubber chicken nosh.
In a ballroom in what Richard Ben Cramer called “that ratty Ramada overlooking the highway,” (it’s not that bad) there’s a state trooper sitting across the table. He’s wearing the familiar crisp French blue shirt with buttoned pockets, necktie, navy blue pants with a blue stripe. He’s packin’ heat and looks vaguely familiar.
“Hey Mike, remember me?” During post-banquet pleasantry exchanging, extending his right hand. “Uh...” I respond intelligently, buying time. Glancing at his name plate and badge, the lights flicker and I rocket back a couple of decades.
Now, he’s Deputy Superintendent of the Kansas Highway Patrol. Then, he wore a suit and tie, drove an unmarked Crown Vic and would have taken a bullet for the Governor. One of a half dozen or so state troopers who comprised the Governor’s Security Detail.
Young, fit, stoic and clean-cut, service on the Governor’s Security Detail differed vastly from traditional highway patrolling in the blue and grey cruisers. A constituency of two to protect and serve. Our guy and his wife became parents of a baby girl just months after taking office, adding another human life, layer of seriousness and responsibility to an already challenging task.
A command post at Cedar Crest, another just outside the Governor’s main office on the second floor of the Statehouse. A fully functional system within a system within a system. These guys answered to a Kansas Highway Patrol chain of command, while working side-by-side with the Governor’s staff.
The Superintendent of the KHP serves at the pleasure of the Governor, so we eased into the midst of a decades-old culture of cooperation and mutual respect between a pair of essential state government systems. It was clicking long before and after our eight years.
Like most Governors, our guy chafed a bit at first, but with an appreciation for their responsibilities, quickly settled into a comfortable pattern. He made it a point to always ride in the passenger’s seat, because he respected their job, cared about them as people and did not want them to be seen as, or feel like, chauffeurs.
Since our guy was ‘effective and efficient,’ he’d use the passenger seat time for paperwork or phone calls. If he was going across town, as his spokesman, I’d often hop in the back seat and use the face time to gain clarity on our line or share intel. After leaving office, our guy joked he knew he was no longer Governor, when he got in the Crown Vic and it didn’t go anywhere.
When you serve at that level, the pace and schedule is often grueling. A Governor works all day, and can have an appearance every evening. Everywhere he’d go, a trooper would accompany and another trooper would have advanced the trip to provide a lay of the land. Your time is not your own, but you’re serving the greater good.
One lone, somber plainclothes trooper standing between our guy and harm. That’s a helluva lotta responsibility. State troopers do much good.
Those of us on the Governor’s staff would often joke about taking a bullet for the Governor (I once took a cup of hot coffee in my lap for the Governor on the jump seat of a jam-packed King Air high over Great Bend.) But around the troopers, no such joking.
Because they probably would.