John Doll feels liberated.

“I’m free now,” the state senator from Garden City said in explaining his decision to leave the Republican Party and join Greg Orman’s independent run for governor.

“Parties never meant a lot,” Doll, now an aspiring lieutenant governor, said in pitching the Orman-Doll team as best suited to serve the people of Kansas without the pressure of partisan politics.

The approach is commendable, and the Orman-Doll ticket is exciting.

But not all who pledge allegiance to a party hurt the process. The Republican and Democratic parties in Kansas have many dedicated, thoughtful public servants who put constituents’ interests first.

The problem is in the extremism we saw recently from then-Gov. Sam Brownback and his ultraconservative allies. Their self-inflicted budget turmoil and reckless quest to shrink government badly hurt the state.

Kansas would suffer more of the same if either of two Republican candidates in Gov. Jeff Colyer or Secretary of State Kris Kobach succeeds.

Instead, Kansas needs more of the centrist mindset that’s recently powered a move in the Legislature toward fiscal sanity. Orman fits the bill, as does Republican Jim Barnett, a former state senator, and current state Sen. Laura Kelly, a Democrat. Others running have an opportunity to prove the same.

As for Orman, a successful businessman, his strong independent run against Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts in 2014 proved he’s a formidable contender. Doll’s understanding of rural Kansas, background in education and years of public service boost the independent ticket.

Democrats’ understandable fear is in the independent option spoiling their chances in November. Orman would indeed appeal to Republicans who won’t support a radical such as Kobach, or any Democrat.

It’s also easy to see how an independent siphoning off votes from Democrats could help a Republican nominee in deep-red Kansas.

The question is who can win and prevent a Brownback-style outcome — or worse, should Kobach get the nod.

We’ll learn much more about the gubernatorial hopefuls and their thoughts on key issues in the months ahead. With choices good and bad, Kansans must pay close attention in a race where the stakes are extraordinarily high for the state and its people.