Gov.-Hopeful Jennison Visits Cowley County
By LUKE THOMPSON
Special to the Traveler
Republican Robin Jennison grew up working on a farm in a small town in western Kansas, so it's shouldn't be too much of a surprise that one of the focus points in his gubernatorial campaign is improving rural economies.
"The problem has been that for 30 years, our economic development strategy has been one of ad hoc taxes to, in essence, steal business from other states," he said during a brief visit to Winfield on last week. "What we need to do is create business, and it can be done. I can take you into any town in rural Kansas and I can show you a business that's there for no good reason other than the fact that an entrepreneur had a vision and made it work."
Jennison was born and raised in Healy, north of Garden City. He has great pride in the state where he has lived all his life, and seems confident that he can improve it as governor.
In 1990, he decided to go into politics and won a position in the House of Representatives. With some luck and well-positioned allies, Jennison quickly moved up the ranks.
In 1993 he ran uncontested and became the Assistant Majority Leader. In 1997 he was elected Majority Leader and by 1999 he had been chosen by his colleagues as Speaker of the House.
"It was timing," Jennison said. "The opportunity was there."
By 2000 Jennison had gotten very involved with the Kansas tourism industry, and wanted to do more to help. So, he decided to leave politics and enter into private enterprise. Now he's come back into the political fray, running for governor with the Republican party.
Jennison has been critical of his opponent and incumbent, Democrat Kathleen Sebelius. One of the areas where he feels Sebelius didn't do her job is school finance. He disagreed with her method of dealing with the school finance bill she didn't endorse.
"Anybody who follows legislative politics would have thought she'd veto the bill," he said. "If that's not what she thought was right for Kansas, as the representative of Kansas as a whole, she should've used her power as governor to forge a bill that she thought was appropriate. Instead, she didn't sign it, she didn't veto it, she just sent it over to the Supreme Court, and I think she abdicated her job to the Supreme Court."
His disappointment didn't end there. Jennison said the courts went too far in claiming that the plan was unconstitutional, and that they were making public policy.
He believes this is upsetting the system of checks and balances in our government, giving the court far too much power, especially considering judges are determined by having a private organization--the Kansas Bar Association-- nominate 3 people from which the governor can choose.
"It doesn't matter whether you want more money for schools or less money for schools." he said. "You don't want seven people that are not elected by anybody making educational policy decisions in the state of Kansas."
The solution, said Jennison, is to let the governor choose his/her judges from anyone in the field of law, then have that selection approved by the senate, just as it is done at the federal level.
Although Jennison realizes school finance must be solved, he believes that the key issue gaining support for his campaign is the economy. He hopes to be able to create incentives and opportunities so that rural areas are no longer dependent on urban areas for economic support.
"I think the economy is the issue in this election," Jennison said. "School finance is an important issue and because it's so big we've got to solve it first, but the fact of the matter is whether we want to talk about school finance or health care or infrastructure or social services, if we don't have a growing economy, we can't provide any of those services."
He sees the immediate future as a great time to create a growing economy in the state. Biodiesel, ethanol, wind energy, and tourism are all things Jennison said will help him achieve this goal.
In order to bring more tourism to Kansas, he has said early in his administration, he will remove tourism from the Commerce Department and remove parks from the Wildlife and Parks Department to form a new cabinet level agency called Parks and Tourism.
"With that, I think we'll be able to establish a vision in Kansas, and I think we'll be able to implement (that vision)," he said.
Jennison plans to take advantage of all the tourists who pass through Kansas on their way to other places. To do that, he knows he'll have to change the perception of people that there is nothing to see in Kansas, but he believes this can be accomplished with the help of some of the scenery he's seen in different regions of the state.
At this stage in his campaign, Jennison is pleased with the support he's been able to gather by focusing early on the issues that are important to the public. He points to the fact that the Sebelius campaign is struggling because they're telling people how good the economy is.
"I think it further distances the governor from a lot of the state when they hear her talk about this rosy economy when they don't see it," he said.
Jennison said he is pleased with his support at this point in the campaign. He believes he has got people on his side by addressing issues that the people care about early in the campaign.
Also, he believes that the recent announcement by Lt. Gov. John Moore will probably lead Sebelius to search for a new running mate that will be able to help her get support in Western Kansas or Johnson County.
"I think both areas have seen that some of the things they thought she was going to do she hasn't done and because of that she needs to get supporters in those areas again," Jennison said.
Even if he does land a new job in Topeka, Jennison said he has no intention of forgetting about his roots. Rural Kansas has been home to him all his life, and he plans to do what it takes to make things better in those areas.
"I have told people that our administration will spend more time in the state, rather than in Topeka, than probably any administration we've ever had," he said. "I just think it's important because the types of things we want to do we've got to create enthusiasm for."