Heartbeat Away

This column appeared Thursday, June 7, 2018 in The Manhattan Mercury.


For the next sixty days, much will be written about eight candidates for governor of Kansas. You will see precious little about the eight human beings they have deemed the best individual to guide the ship of state in the event they get hit by a truck or the King Air nosedives into no-till wheat stubble somewhere west of U.S. 81.

John Doll of Garden City, Rosemary Hansen of Topeka, Wink Hartman of Wichita, Katrina Lewison of Manhattan, Tracey Mann of Salina, Chris Morrow of Gardner, Lynn Rogers of Wichita and Jenifer Sanderson of Goodland.

Candidates for lieutenant governor, who have had the frank and candid conversation with the one who wants them, slept on it and made peace with being a heartbeat away. Each now with a deeply-held conviction that they've something to offer and confident in their ability to say all the right things, to the right people, at the right time.
 
Each brings two or more of the essential second banana selection criteria: differences in geography, gender, age, connections, personal chemistry, strong where the other is weak. The yin to their running mate's yang. If they hold a differing view on a key issue, they've rationalized that they can still sleep at night, suck it up and hope no one asks. But will be ready, just in case: "So glad you brought that up, since (insert name of gubernatorial candidate here) and I believe strongly that diversity of opinion is a strength..."

Since few voters will recognize the lieutenant governor candidates, let alone learn their names or stories, their political value needs to be summed up in an easily remembered notion: "education guru," "military service distinction," "pitched hay bales as a kid," "successful businessperson," "mayor of a Johnson County suburb," etc.

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As the message-meister for Bill Graves' successful 1994 candidacy for governor, the contours of the narrative for his lieutenant governor running mate emerged right away. "...Senate Majority Leader Sheila Frahm, who grew up on the banks of Prairie Dog Creek in Thomas County..."

If one harbors aspirations to one day be first banana, and possesses the tolerance to be a heartbeat away, serving as lieutenant governor offers an effective platform from which to dive into those waters.

There's not a lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer or insurance commissioner who doesn't get up in the morning, look themselves in the mirror and see the next governor. In fact, five of our last half dozen Kansas governors sprang from these ranks.

Plainclothes state troopers don't advance the insurance commissioner's visit to the Clay Center Rotary Club and then ferry them there in an unmarked black Suburban. The state treasurer doesn't get to hang his or her power suits in the walk-in closet of the master suite on the second floor at Cedar Crest. And that's before you get to the Constitutionally-mandated executive branch balance of power stuff. Setting policy priorities through budgets, appointing a Cabinet of competent, loyal agenda movers, the bully pulpit. Governors wield real, legitimate power that impacts our lives.

The lieutenant governor sees all that up close, from a spacious, ornate 2nd floor south Statehouse office. They generally get a couple of staffers. If the governor doesn't have them managing a Cabinet agency or chairing the Blue Ribbon Commission on The Next Crucial Kansas Concern, they can pretty much chart their own course.

When he would talk about his role as governor, Graves would very carefully and purposefully use the words, "public service," leaving the distinct impression that all this was about something more lofty and meaningful than mere grubby elective politics.     

Done right, it is.  

Five of them have a 60-day shelf life. For three, 150 days. This fall, Doll, Hansen, Hartman, Lewison, Mann, Morrow, Rogers or Sanderson will be elected lieutenant governor of Kansas.

Standby equipment in the service of you, me and our 2.9 million closest friends and neighbors.

They each bring an enigmatic, yet refreshing mixture of confidence, ego, courage and loving their neighbor. Given the uniqueness of the situation, their effectiveness as a candidate will be hard to measure. Seven of the eight will lose, but they will not be losers. I give them all credit, and with this column, more earned media than they can likely expect all summer. Unless they screw up.

They've committed to spending months appearing before crowds of complete strangers singing the praises of somebody else. To set aside personal ambition in the service of somebody else. Someone in whom they trust and believe will do us right. That seems the definition of selflessness.