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I’ve learned a lot in my first several weeks as an Independent candidate for the U.S. Senate. Going into this, we all knew that running outside the two-party system would have its challenges. Without the benefit of a party behind me, everything from fundraising and attracting volunteers to building crowds at events requires more of a personal connection to the candidate and the campaign.
One of the biggest challenges, however, is for voters. After a lifetime of characterizing politicians as either Republicans or Democrats, voters don’t really have a framework for how to think about an Independent candidate. As a result, the most common criticism we hear from Republicans is “he’s just a Democrat.” Democrats, on the other hand, tend to say “he’s just a Republican.” I guess in this hyper-partisan environment, the prevailing thinking is that if a candidate isn’t from one's own party, he/she must be from the other party.
So, in an effort to help the voters of Kansas understand me better, I want to outline why I’m an Independent and the path I took to get here.
My Political History
I grew up in a political family. My maternal grandfather, Fred Gates, worked for Hubert Humphrey, helping him get elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945. Fred continued to work for Humphrey until 1970, when Fred passed away. Needless to say, my mother, having grown up with Democratic politics her whole life, as well as having worked as a union nurse, was also a Democrat.
My father owned a furniture store in Stanley, Kansas, and as a small business owner believed in the power of free markets and individuals and was a traditional Republican.
My politics were a little bit of a mix of both my parents. I considered myself fiscally responsible and socially tolerant. I believed government needed to live within its means and not pass on our debts to future generations. By the same token, I believed that people’s private lives should remain private, and government shouldn’t interfere with the choices that people made for themselves. Like my mother, I also believed in equality of opportunities for ALL Americans.
One of my heroes as a child was Ronald Reagan. While there was some discussion of social issues in the Republican Party at that time, those issues didn’t seem to overwhelm the political discourse from the right. The party was more moderate back then; it was the party of Bob Dole.
My first election as a voter was 1988. As a member of the College Republicans, I worked on an advance team for George H.W. Bush at an event in New Jersey. I drove a flatbed truck in Trenton with the national press in tow as Vice President Bush walked to a campaign event.
When I graduated from college in 1991, seniors were allowed to put quotes next to their picture in the yearbook. I chose one from Ross Perot. When Perot decided to run for President, I was immediately drawn to his message of debt reduction, tax code simplification and political reform. I registered as an Independent and joined United We Stand America, which later become the Reform Party.
As the Republicans embraced Perot’s message of debt reduction through controlling our spending, I was more supportive of the Republican Party. In 1999, under Bill Clinton’s leadership and with the cooperation of a Republican Congress, we balanced the federal budget for the first time in 40 years.
The debate in the 2000 presidential election was the first time in my lifetime where the subject of what to do with surpluses was one of the defining issues. After watching George W. Bush and the Republican Congress turn surpluses into trillions in debt, expand entitlements, and ignore our growing healthcare affordability crisis, I decided to give the Democrats a look. The Republican Party was no longer embracing the principle of our country living within its means. They also seemed to be focused more on social issues at the expense of fiscal responsibility.
After 11 years as a registered Independent and seven years as a registered Republican, and with the support and encouragement of Kansas Democrats, I decided in 2007 to explore the U.S. Senate Race in Kansas as a Democrat. I supported other Democratic candidates during that period and learned a great deal. While I met a number of folks who are now great friends, the timing wasn’t right and I never declared my candidacy, or filed to run with the Kansas Secretary of State.
In 2009 and 2010, I supported both Republicans and Democrats, but I was also starting to form the opinion that neither party truly represented me. I determined that the parties were becoming a part of the problem. With extremists controlling the primary process and Congressional districts becoming increasingly partisan, our elected officials were becoming more and more unyielding. I knew we needed to do something truly different if we were to put America back on the right path.
In November of 2010, I founded the Common Sense Coalition. I wanted to create a place where the silent majority in America – those people who were fiscally responsible and socially tolerant – felt like they had a voice. Ever since, I’ve been committed to exclusively supporting Independent, reform causes as the best path to getting Washington working again.
Until recently, Kansas has had a proud tradition of electing collaborative leaders who could stay true to their principles yet still work with others to get things done for Kansas and the country.
If I’m given the privilege of representing Kansas in the U.S. Senate, I will go to Washington as a problem solver not a partisan. I will embrace the best ideas wherever they come from to move our country forward. I won’t be beholden to a party or the special interests who keep them in power, but rather will dedicate myself to serving Kansans not simply as Republicans, Democrats, or Independents but as Americans first.
When I decided to run for the U.S Senate in 2014 as an Independent, I knew going in that taking on this challenge without the backing of a party would not be easy. However, I know it’s the right one for me as a candidate and the right one for Kansas if we’re going to have a shot at breaking the partisan stranglehold in Washington and getting our country back on track.
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