Friday, August 9, 2013

House Democratic Leader Davis forms gubernatorial campaign committee

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Democrat from Lawrence, today confirmed he may challenge Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in next year's election.

Davis filed paperwork with the Kansas secretary of state's office necessary to create a gubernatorial campaign committee and raise money to run for governor.

"I will make a formal announcement about my plans in the coming weeks," Davis said. "Until then, I look forward to engaging the people of Kansas in a discussion about our shared vision for our state."

Davis appointed former state Rep. William Kassebaum of Burdick as his campaign treasurer. Kassebaum is the son of former U.S. Sen. Nancy Kassebaum and grandson of former Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, all of them Republicans.

Davis said of his treasurer, "Bill and his family have a long record of moderate, bipartisan leadership in Kansas. This is exactly what Kansans want in Topeka."

Because Democrats are heavily outnumbered in Kansas, a statewide Democratic candidate must attract unaffiliated and moderate Republican voters.

Davis, 41, became leader of House Democrats in 2008. He was first elected to the House in 2003.

Before becoming a legislator, Davis, an attorney, worked for the Kansas Bar Association and for the Kansas Department of Insurance when former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, was insurance commissioner. Sebelius is now secretary of Health and Human Services in President Barack Obama's cabinet.

Davis received his bachelor's degree from Kansas University and his law degree from Washburn University.

In recent years, Davis has been highly critical of Brownback's tax policies.

Brownback has pushed for and signed into law lower income tax rates, eliminating income taxes for nearly 200,000 business owners, removing deductions designed to help low- and middle-income Kansans, and in the recent session, a sales tax increase to offset some of the lost tax revenue.

Brownback has said the tax changes will improve the economy. Critics, including Davis, say the changes increase the tax burden on the poor while benefitting the wealthy and will lead to budget shortfalls that will hurt schools and social services. Thinks tanks across the political spectrum have been critical of the Brownback tax changes.

But David Kensinger, who is president of Brownback's political action committee, said Brownback will run on his record of cutting taxes, balancing the state budget and job creation.

"We're focused on building a campaign that can share with every Kansan, Governor Brownback's record of accomplishment," Kensinger said.

Davis represents the first major Democrat to step forward as a possible candidate against Brownback, who easily won election in 2010 against another Douglas County legislator, state Sen. Tom Holland of Baldwin City. Before becoming governor, Brownback served in the U.S. Senate and unsuccessfully ran for president in 2007.

In recent weeks, other high-profile Democrats said they didn't plan to run for governor.

After Davis issued his news release, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, and whose district includes a portion of Douglas County, said that if Davis decides to run "I will support him in every way possible."

Douglas County Commissioner Mike Gaughan, who was a legislative liaison with Sebelius, said Davis always works "to bring people together and do what is best for our state, and we absolutely do need that kind of leadership in the governor's office."

Hensley said, "I believe Kansans want a common sense, politically moderate leader in the governor's office right now, and Paul Davis would give Kansans that choice."

On Twitter, the group Fund Our Schools said of Davis' announcement, "This is great news for public education in Kansas!! Let's get ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work!" Meanwhile, the Kansas Republican Party said Davis was "the opponent we wished for."