Sunflower State Survey
The “$64,000 question” in Kansas politics these days is, “What will Jerry Moran do?” With Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius considered highly vulnerable next year, five-term Rep. Moran is increasingly considered the most formidable Republican she could face. A solid conservative (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 92%) and a former majority leader of the state Senate, Moran explored a bid for governor when the job was open in ’02, but opted for remaining in Congress because, he believed, his work in Washington was more important in the wake of the 9/11 attack.
In a matter of weeks, most pundits expect, Moran will decide whether or not four years have changed the political landscape and if the state capital of Topeka is more important than Congress. If he does become a candidate, the 50-year-old Moran’s strong conservative following throughout the Sunflower State will make him an overnight favorite for the Republican gubernatorial nod. As for Moran’s leanings about making a race, David Kensinger of the state Club for Growth told Human Events’ Mitch Evans: “Everybody’s waiting to see. Nobody really knows for sure now.”
Should Moran take the gubernatorial plunge, his exodus from Congress would leave open what has long been considered the safest Republican U.S. House district of all four in Kansas. In the event of a GOP primary in the rural, 66-county 1st District, enthusiasm on the right is already bubbling for one potential candidate: Rob Wasinger, chief of staff to Sen. Sam Brownback (R.-Kan.) and a highly respected figure among conservatives in Kansas and Washington.
At 33, and the father of seven, Harvard graduate Wasinger has been the right hand of fellow conservative Brownback (lifetime ACU rating: 94%) almost since Brownback entered the Senate in 1996 after a solo House term. Among his fellow conservative “movers and shakers” in both Washington and Kansas, Wasinger is both well-known and well-liked. He was, for example, a major player in the crafting and passage of the human cloning amendment, one of the premier pieces of pro-life legislation enacted by Congress in recent years.
Should Moran opt for a gubernatorial run and Wasinger seek his seat, the young staffer will no doubt face stiff opposition for the all-important GOP standard. State Sen. Tim Huelskamp, a farmer and nine-year Senate veteran, has already said he will run for Congress if Moran runs for governor. In addition, lobbyist Robin Jennison, a moderate and former House speaker from Healy, is considered very likely to run if the 1st is open.
With the probable strong support of Brownback and other conservative leaders, however, Wasinger has to be considered the front-runner in an open-seat situation. There is precedent for congressional staffers’ going on to Congress in the 1st District. When Republican Rep. (1968-80) Keith Sebelius (whose son is married to the current Democratic governor) retired, the Republican primary for the seat was won handily by his top aide, Pat Roberts, who served in the House from 1980-96 and then went on to his current perch in the Senate.
Seeking Hyde’s Seat
Eight months before Republicans in Illinois’ 6th District are to nominate a successor to revered 32-year incumbent Rep. Henry Hyde, sides are already being taken and sparks are starting to fly.
In most circumstances in which two state senators are vying for the GOP nomination in a safe Republican congressional district, their colleagues avoid taking sides for fear of angering someone with whom they have regular dealings or who will soon be in Congress. Not so in the 6th District (DuPage County). Two weeks ago, six fellow Republican lawmakers weighed in strongly for state Sen. Peter Roskam over his Senate colleague, Carole Pankau.
Although none of the six lawmakers—all of whom represent territory within the 6th—voiced any criticism of the moderate Pankau, they also made it quite clear they were more in tune with Roskam, a stalwart conservative and onetime staff assistant to Hyde.
“We’re trying to coalesce around someone who will express [the district’s] views,” declared state Sen. Wendell Jones, in a not-so-veiled dig at Pankau, who has said she will position herself as a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.
Another pro-Roskam legislator, state Sen. Dan Cronin of Elmhurst (who had once considered a bid for Congress himself), hailed his colleague from Wheaton as the natural heir to the 81-year-old Hyde. In his words, “[Roskam is] smart, he’s articulate, he’s a skilled debater. In short, he has what it takes in Congress.”
Joining Cronin and Jones in supporting Roskam were state Senators David Sullivan (Park Ridge), Kay Wojcik (Schaumberg) and Steve Rauschenberger (Elgin), who is considering a run for governor in ’06. In addition, state Rep. John Millner (Carroll Stream), who is considered the heir apparent to the retiring Wojcik’s Senate seat.
Behind the unusual colleague-over-colleague blessings from the six legislators are some key political factors. Roskam, like his mentor Hyde, takes unabashedly conservative stands on issues such as abortion, gun ownership and special rights for homosexuals—a decided contrast to self-styled “social moderate” Pankau. For her part, the 57-year-old Pankau makes no bones about her differences with Roskam and told the Chicago Tribune that 6th District Republicans “want to see and hear different views and then they will make up their minds as voters.”
But Pankau, some pundits and pols believe, may be trying to move too fast. After eight years on the DuPage County Board and a dozen years as a state representative, she won a highly charged primary for the 23rd District seat held for more than 30 years by former state Senate President James “Pate” Philip. That was only last year.
A third candidate, former DuPage County Recorder J.P. “Rick” Carney, has just withdrawn from the primary to endorse Roskam. Thus, the March primary will be a two-candidate race and a classic ideological showdown.
Larson to Granger’s Side: More times than not, congressional staffers moved to slots within the administration and not vice-versa. But there has been one recent exception: Taking the position of chief of staff to Rep. Kay Granger (R.-Tex.), which was first held by current Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman, is Debra Larson, until recently the head of legislative affairs for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A graduate of the University of Wisconsin and a former official of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Larson served in the first Bush Administration as a congressional affairs officer at NOAA and then went on to key slots at the National Weather Service and World Bank.
Roff to Free Enterprise: One of the most visible figures in the conservative community in Washington has just moved to the recently formed Free Enterprise Fund. Peter Roff, until recently a political correspondent for United Press International, will oversee political affairs and information-gathering as vice president of the Free Enterprise Fund. Prior to his stint at UPI, longtime Human Events subscriber Roff was best known as the political director of GOPAC in the days when the candidate-building group was run by Newt Gingrich. Roff’s dry wit and encyclopedic knowledge of American politics have been on display at regular “networking” meetings of the right, notably the Wednesday sessions hosted by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform.