Thursday morning, attendees at the Great Bend Area Chamber of Commerce coffee at Community Bank of the Midwest got a chance to meet Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed O’Malley. He’s the founder of the Kansas Leadership Center, located in Wichita, where countless business and community leaders have undergone leadership training over the years.
“I already have the best job in Kansas, but our state needs the kind of leadership that is taught there,” he said. So after months of conducting an exploratory campaign, in October he announced he would enter the race. He has been preparing for the upcoming campaign season since then, and is set to kick off a series of public forums throughout the state starting in January.
There are big issues that need to be worked, that politicians avoid at all costs, O’Malley said.
“They avoid them during campaigns, and they tend to avoid them when they are in office too,” he said. “Leadership is about focusing people’s energy and attention on the things you already know they are thinking about.”
The forums will allow him to demonstrate what it looks like when you bring people together from different points of view and work to discover where the common ground lies and what can be done to solve issues, rather than simply trying to convince them to change their minds, which does more to polarize factions than to solve problems, he said.
The first forum will be in January in Kansas City. The topic will be gun violence.
“We all know you can’t go into a sporting event, a concert, a movie theater, or a church now, and not have in the back of your mind something could happen,” he said. “We have to talk about it. We need to bring different factions together and have a conversation and learn together.”
Other topics are yet to be determined, and will be held in venues around the state.
O’Malley has his own opinions and vows people will know exactly where he stands on the different elements of the various issues. He shared his take on the Brownback tax plan.
“I appreciate Governor Brownback trying something to grow this economy,” he said. “What he tried lacked logic and strategy, and it failed miserably.”
He applauded the 2017 Legislature for reversing much of the failed policy. It’s important the state get on a new path. During his exploratory campaign, O’Malley asked organizers to do their best to bring together the most diverse groups they could.
At every stop, he asked the same five questions: When you think about the future of Kansas, what concerns you the most? What makes progress so difficult on the things that concern you the most? What do we need most in the next governor, regardless of who she or he is, to make more progress? What do we need out of the rest of us to make more progress? And finally, what strengths do we need to leverage in Kansas so we can make more progress on the issues that concern you the most?
Regardless of the size of group or the location anywhere in the state, he said, the top two answers of the first question were the same.
“Our schools and the state fiscal situation were the top concerns,” he said.
He also noted that never once did anyone ever mention voter fraud. And never once did anyone ever say immigration. O’Malley has come out against Republican gubernatorial candidate Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s efforts to initiate legislation requiring the presentation of birth certificates or passports when registering to vote. Kobach is also running for the governor’s seat.
For the second question, polarization and a lack of understanding financially how the state works were the top answers. An Aug. 22 post on his campaign website includes a 12-minute video about what else he learned during the exploratory campaign.
“We do have to grow this economy,” O’Malley said. “The state desperately needs leadership right now. We cannot go another four or eight years without it. If Republicans are supposed to be the party that runs things like a business, we are running this state like a very bad business right now, and we just can’t afford it.”
O’Malley was born and raised in Johnson County, attended Kansas State University, and served in elected office in Johnson County. He moved to Wichita 11 years ago and created the Kansas Leadership Center and has raised his family in that community. According to his campaign website, he met his wife Joanna on the school bus in seventh grade. They have three children.
O’Malley is the co-author of a pair of books. “For the Common Good: Redefining Civic Leadership” tells the stories of five Kansans, their real-live leadership dilemmas and how they found success by working through challenges. “Your Leadership Edge: Lead Anytime, Anywhere” breaks down the Kansas Leadership Center’s leadership framework that empowers readers to put their own ideas into action.
His career has taken him all over Kansas, where he has engaged with communities through organizations like the Golden Belt Community Foundation or the Great Bend Area Chamber of Commerce. Because of this, he feels confident no other candidate knows Kansas better than him.
Case in point, one of O’Malley’s top concerns is the disconnect between rural and urban/suburban Kansas. When he attended K-State, he said, almost everyone he knew had some connection to the farm. Today, that isn’t the case.
“The people of Johnson County and Wichita need rural Kansas to thrive, and visa versa. I’m very worried that disconnect is near complete. It’s got to be the job of a governor to bring those factions together and not be satisfied with passing legislation that only works for one side of that equation. We’ve got to pass legislation that works for everybody.”