Greg Orman’s weariness with the institutionalized bickering between the dominant Democratic and Republican parties spurred him to launch his Independent bid for governor.
Now, the entrepreneur and businessman from Fairway wants to bring some common sense to economic growth, education, health care and government transparency. But, despite its many assets, the Sunflower State suffers from an image problem and labors under many outdated policies.
“We need to look at Kansas’ position in the country,” he said, calling the governor the state’s top marketer. “It used to be a leader.”
But, the tarnish of what he called former Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed tax experiment made it the subject of national derision. “We need them to talk about what is right with Kansas.”
He spent Wednesday in Great Bend to learn what makes this community tick. Attending the Chamber of Commerce Coffee at the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo and a ribbon cutting at Barton Community College, he chatted with government, business and educational leaders.
He was headed next to McPherson Friday, then on to Kansas City.
“We start to see common themes,” he said. Although each community faces unique challenges, everyone worries about kids leaving the state and the need to increase job opportunities here.
“I find in traveling around the state that it’s things like the zoo that turn towns and cities into communities,” he said addressing the coffee crowd.
“Community colleges are important to economic development,” he said, referencing Barton’s new online course schedule. “It’s great to see you are doing innovative things.”
But, it will take more.
“I’m a small business guy,” Orman said. And this is how he sees economic development.
“You have to look at whatever your strengths are and capitalize on them,” he said. For Kansas, it sits at the crossroads of the nation with a great highway system and three major railroads.
“We should be the distribution capital of America,” he said. But, development-stifling polices and regulations need to change first.
He cited the Great Bend transload facility as an example of what can go right.
Other priorities for him include: Workforce development with partnerships to bolster certificate programs; a rural fiber optic network to facilitate tele-commuting from now-isolated areas; maintain critical-access hospitals; and make Topeka more accountable to Kansas voters.
Orman declared his candidacy for Cedar Crest last August, officially entering the race in January. In March, he announced his running mate, state Sen. John Doll of Garden City, a Republican who changed his voter registration to Independent.
He admits he has had a strange political journey. As a young adult, Orman admired Republican icon Ronald Reagan, and at various times Orman has been registered as a Republican and a Democrat.
Orman has twice tried to unseat long-time Kansas Senator Pat Roberts; he first ran in 2014 as a non-affiliated candidate, but was defeated by incumbent Roberts in the November general election. In 2008, he ran as a Democrat before withdrawing in February of that year.
“I’ve tried both parties and I was generally disappointed,” said Orman, who describes himself as fiscally responsible, yet socially tolerant. “We need to put state and country above party politics.”
As an Independent, he said he can stay above the fray and not be beholden to party bosses on either side of the aisle.
Outside party lines
Now, as an Independent ticket, Orman and Doll will bypass the party primaries on Aug. 7 and qualify directly for the Nov. 6 general election via ballot petition. This means his team, by law, must secure at least 5,000 signatures of registered voters by Aug. 6.
The campaign started this process weeks ago. He has opened field offices in Johnson and Sedgwick counties with another one in Finney County planned.
But, this year’s gubernatorial race is still somewhat of a muddy pasture with a long list of wannabes on both traditional sides of the ballot.
The frontrunners in this year’s GOP gubernatorial primary are Gov. Jeff Colyer, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer and former state legislator Jim Barnett. The Democratic primary features Sen. Laura Kelly, Rep. Jim Ward, former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer and former agriculture secretary Josh Svaty.
Orman said his campaign raised more than $450,000 in just 26 days from individuals only, with no contributions from PACs or lobbyists. In April, a poll from the Docking Institute at Fort Hays State showed him with the second highest name identification among the 19 candidates included in the survey.
Despite not participating in a party primary, the campaign continues raising funds and maintaining a full schedule of parades and community events, just like the party candidates, Orman said.
Orman was born and raised in Mankato, Minn., and graduated from Princeton University in 1991 with an economics degree. After his parents divorced when he was little, his father opened a furniture store in the Kansas City area and the young Orman often spent summers there.
He then worked for the McKinsey & Company consulting firm until 1994, when he left to run Environmental Lighting Concepts. He later sold most of the company to Kansas City Power & Light and managed KCP&L’s energy services operation. Orman founded Denali Partners LLC in 2004 and has worked with it since.
He moved to Kansas in 1997. He and his wife, an elementary school teacher, and two kids reside in Fairway in Johnson County.
Doll grew up in Ingalls in Gray County. As a boy, Doll worked in the family beef and cattle operation, Irsik & Doll, and after graduating college spent some 20 years as a teacher and coach before serving on the Garden City Commission and winning several terms in the state Legislature.
Orman said Doll brings a strong western Kansas, rural voice to the ticket.