In a performative stand against the ostensible problems created by party lines in the statehouse, State Sen. John Doll of Garden City on Wednesday announced to his constituents that he was changing his “R” to an “I."

Simultaneously, gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman publicly announced John Doll as his running mate on an independent platform.

Addressing an assembly of about 20 at the Clarion Inn in Garden City, Orman recounted his initial request, or at least a version of it. Like a suitor asking a father for his daughter’s hand in marriage, Orman said he asked Janet Doll, John Doll’s wife and a former mayor of Garden City, for permission to take her husband on as his running mate and potential lieutenant governor of Kansas.

According to Orman, Janet said no, but John said yes anyway. The rest is history.

Describing Doll as an educator, coach, small business owner and public servant, Orman said he is excited about including Doll on his ticket as a “strong and powerful voice for the things he cares about, for western Kansas, for creating new markets for our agriculture, for transportation policy, for public education, public safety, on all the things that he cares about deeply.”

The union of Orman, a Johnson County businessman, and Doll — originally from Ingalls, former mayor of Garden City and vice chairman of the Senate education and transportation committees — represents a notable union of eastern and western Kansas.

A former Democrat, Doll ran for Congress in 2006, joined the Kansas House as a Republican in 2013 and served two terms before becoming a Kansas senator in 2017.

“I’ve been known to switch parties,” Doll said during his address. “I was a Democrat and then a Republican. Parties never meant a lot.”

The Orman platform touts a promise to put people over politics, and in doing so, Doll says an Orman administration will be able to pass over party lines to recruit the best and brightest cabinet members.

Doll said the pressure to vote within party lines is “extreme,” adding that an independent platform would allow him and Orman to do what’s best for Kansas. And for Doll, no one has the vision for Kansas that Orman has.

Noting that people have accused him of being a closet Democrat, Doll said, “First and foremost, I’m a Christian. Secondly, I’m an American. Third, I’m a Kansan.”

Doll informed Senate Republicans with a letter on Tuesday of his intent to drop out of the GOP. The letter also stated that Doll would relinquish his committee positions. A self-described fiscal conservative, Doll still requested permission from Senate President Susan Wagle to caucus with the Republicans.

Doll says Wagle will decide if he can still serve on committees.

Doll’s departure will hardly change the Republican’s supermajority status in the Senate, but as the only independent in the Legislature, he could become a key swing vote.

A successful businessman, Orman has never held elected office, but he did run as an independent for U.S. Senate in 2014, losing narrowly to incumbent Pat Roberts. Orman announced his bid for the governor’s office in late January.

Still, Democratic leaders have criticized Orman’s candidacy as a pathway to the continuation of the Brownback administration through Jeff Colyer, or even a Kobach governorship, by splitting the Democrat vote.

While Doll is the only current independent in the Legislature, he is not the first. The Kansas City Star reported that at least 30 people have served as independents. And Doll says the sensibilities that led him to this decision aren’t foreign to many members of the Republican and Democratic parties in the statehouse.

If anything, Doll says, an independent platform is the way forward for Kansas. He says Orman is not limited by party platforms and is also an “unbelievable listener” with control over his ego.

For Doll, Orman “really, really has it going on,” and for people who say they put the candidate over political party affiliation, Doll says this is their chance to prove it.

“If you study the candidates, I’m fairly confident that if you truly want the betterment of Kansas, that’s going to take us the right direction, Greg’s the answer,” Doll said.

Despite his departure from the GOP, Doll says he always will be a fiscal conservative.

“You can ask Janet,” he said. “I’ll always be who I am, and that’s how I’ve always voted. I was called what they call a moderate Republican… Sometimes belonging to a party ties your hands. I’m free now.”

Orman said he is confident he can win the election. Noting that Kansas represents a $16 billion enterprise, he said hiring decisions made in Topeka need to be based on competence, “not based on political loyalty or ideological conformity.”

“The other thing I can do as an independent is I can embrace the best ideas wherever they come from to move the state forward,” Orman said. “So often in our politics today, an idea floated by one side is dead on arrival with the other side. As an independent, I don’t care who the author is. I only care if the policy is effective, and so I can embrace the best policies.”

Orman described himself as fiscally responsible, but added that Kansas has underinvested in public schools, roads, general infrastructure and hospitals. He also said he supports Medicaid expansion, explaining that, “We send a terrible message to the working poor in Kansas.”

“We basically say to them, 'If you get sick, quit your job — because it’s the only way you can get health care.' And I don’t think that’s the message we want to send,” Orman said. “I think we want to give people pathways to work.”

As for agriculture, Orman says Doll will be a crucial part of developing that policy, along with water conservation strategies and efforts to introduce drought-resistant crops, such as industrial hemp, to the state.

Orman said that even in 2014, he saw that Kansans have been looking for something “very different."

“When I looked at this governor’s race, it was clear to me that what happens over the next five years is going to determine the path that we’re on as a state for the next several decades,” he said.

“I’m concerned, and I think many Kansans are concerned that if we don’t change course, this isn’t going to be a place where our kids decide to build their lives, and so that’s what this campaign is all about for me. It’s all about reclaiming Kansas’ legacy of leadership, making this a place where not only do our kids want to stay and are inspired to build their lives, but where other people get excited about moving to Kansas.”

 

Contact Mark Minton at mminton@gctelegram.com.