Gov. Mark Parkinson (D)
Elected: Assumed office April 2009, term expires Jan. 2011, 1st full term.
Born: June 24, 1957, Wichita .
Education: Wichita St. U., B.A. 1980; U. of KS, J.D. 1984.
Family: Married (Stacy); 3 children.
Elected office: KS House of Reps., 1990-92; KS Senate, 1992-96; KS lt. gov., 2006-09
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1984-96; Businessman, 1996-present
The new governor of Kansas is Mark Parkinson, a Democrat who was once a Republican. He switched parties in 2006 to run for lieutenant governor as Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ running mate, then assumed office as Sebelius’ successor in April 2009 after she left to join the Obama Cabinet as secretary of Health and Human Services.
|Kathleen Sebelius (D)||491,993||(58%)|
|Jim Barnett (R)||343,586||(40%)|
|Kathleen Sebelius (D)||Unopposed|
Parkinson was born in Wichita. His grandfather was a Scott City farmer who unsuccessfully ran for governor as a Democrat in the 1940s. His father worked in public relations and considered himself a moderate Republican. Parkinson attended Wichita public schools and went on to Wichita State University. He took a semester off during his junior year to run against Republican state Rep. Ben Foster. He lost to Foster in the GOP primary by 37 votes. Parkinson returned to Wichita State, graduated summa cum laude and went to law school at the University of Kansas, where he met his future wife, Stacy. He formed his own law firm in 1986 and practiced for 10 years. In 1990 he ran as a Republican for a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. He was elected and two years later was elected to the state Senate. As a legislator, Parkinson helped write Kansas’ death-penalty law. He earned a reputation as someone who was not afraid to stand out or to buck party leadership. He refused to support a GOP bill to ban flag burning and was a proponent of a controversial 1992 school-aid overhaul. Parkinson viewed himself as a moderate and grew frustrated with the long-standing rift between the moderate and conservative factions of the Republican Party. He decided not to seek re-election in 1996, opting instead to work with his wife to open a series of retirement homes and assisted-living facilities in Kansas.
Though he was no longer an elected official, Parkinson remained active in politics. He chaired the Kansas Republican Party from 1999 to 2003 and labeled Sebelius an “extreme liberal” during her 2002 gubernatorial campaign. He also said that “any Republican who supports Kathleen Sebelius for governor is either insincere or uninformed.” Parkinson’s longtime association with the Republican Party added to the shock value of his decision to accept Sebelius’ invitation to join her re-election ticket in 2006. He switched his party registration one day before she announced that he would succeed Lt. Gov. John Moore, who planned to step down. Parkinson’s presence on the ticket was a smart political play. It exploited the deep divisions between Kansas Republicans, made Sebelius a more attractive candidate to disaffected moderate Republicans, and laid the groundwork for a Democratic successor in 2010, when term limits would have prevented Sebelius from running again. But it brought harsh criticism from Republicans, who recalled that Moore too had been a Republican before running with Sebelius in 2002 and that Parkinson had disparagingly called the selection a gimmick. Sebelius and Parkinson went on to easily defeat Republican state Sen. Jim Barnett 58%-40%.
Sebelius’ runaway victory in a state where registered Republicans outnumber Democrats, coupled with her 2007 chairmanship of the Democratic Governors Association, attracted national notice, leading to talk that she would make an attractive vice presidential candidate in 2008. “It’s hard to imagine that her name’s not going to appear on everybody’s list,” Democratic pollster Mark Mellman told the Associated Press. She endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois for president and campaigned for him in several states during his primary battle with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. Obama considered her for running mate before choosing Delaware Sen. Joe Biden. He tapped her for the position of secretary of Health and Human Services after his first nominee, former South Dakota Sen. Tom Daschle, withdrew amid questions about his failure to pay incomes taxes. She was confirmed by the Senate on a 65-31 vote.
Parkinson was sworn in on April 28, 2009. He has stated that he has no intention of running for election to the job in 2010. “I admire those who are willing and able to make the sacrifices to serve the public for their entire careers, but I’m not one of them,” he said. The two years he would spend in the governor’s office looked to be challenging. The most pressing issue was a $328 million state budget deficit. In his first week in office, he signed an agreement to allow the Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to construct a coal-fired power plant near Holcomb. The deal differentiated Parkinson from Sebelius, who had blocked the company’s previous efforts to gain approval for the project. His decision not to run in 2010 leaves the race wide open, with Republican Sen. Sam Brownback an early favorite.