Greg Orman knows conventional wisdom says he's facing an uphill challenge in running as an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate seat held by Pat Roberts.
But that doesn't faze the Olathe businessman.
"It is a challenge, but as an independent I have the freedom to make decisions that are in the best interest of constituents, and to make decisions that are focused on solving problems and moving our country ahead, as opposed to just toeing a partisan line," he said during a stop Monday in Garden City.
Orman, who abandoned a bid for the Senate in 2008 running as a Democrat against Roberts, said he has tried both parties but feels more comfortable as an independent.
"I've spent most of my life registered as an independent or unaffiliated," he said. Orman, 45, was born in southern Minnesota. His father started a furniture store in Stanley, Kansas, now a part of Overland Park, in 1971. Orman said he spent a lot of summers as a youth working at the store.
A graduate of Princeton University with a degree in economics, Orman joined the McKinsey and Company consulting firm right out of college, then started Environmental Lighting Concepts in 1992, a company which designed efficient lighting systems.
Orman sold most of the company to Kansas City Power & Light in 1996 and then managed KCP&L's energy services operations for several years before co-founding Denali Partners, LLC, in 2004, a company that helps small businesses grow.
Orman started his campaign about 10 days ago and is on a two-day tour of western Kansas where he met with supporters and media in Dodge City and Garden City on Monday and planned to meet with several local companies and talk with several agriculture and business leaders today.
Orman said the problem with politics today is the overly partisan environment.
"We're sending the worst of both parties to Washington," he said. "Bitter partisans who care more about pleasing the extremists and special interests in their own party rather than solving problems."
One of the issues for Orman is what he calls the "new American paradox" which says it's harder for the average American to get ahead today, yet it's easier for a person to do nothing with his life.
Orman thinks it illustrates the divide of the two parties: Republicans aren't willing to acknowledge the first part of the paradox and Democrats aren't willing to acknowledge the second.
On other issues, Orman wants to get government spending under control, supports measures to create jobs and strengthen the economy and wants to make health care and a college education more affordable,
On health care, Orman said affordability was a problem before and since the Affordable Healthcare Act was passed.
"Instead of spending time in Congress trying to solve that problem, we've spent the last five years bickering and not getting anything done," he said.
Higher education affordability has also been neglected, Orman said, noting that tuition costs have outstripped inflation by a factor of three during the last 30 years despite the nation spending more than $100 billion a year on programs to make college more affordable.
Student loan debt is also becoming a strain. Orman said new college graduates have an average student loan debt of $30,000 when they leave school, which prevents them from becoming home owners, fully participating in the economy, and dampens consumer spending and economic growth.
Orman said he has heard similar concerns here as in other parts of the state from people expressing frustration with the dysfunction of Washington.
"They recognize Congress is not solving problems, not acting in the interests of their constituents. I've heard a lot of anger at the elected leaders we have, that they've sort of abandoned Kansas in favor of following whatever their ideological bent is, or whatever they think makes sense for them to get re-elected," Orman said.
But he's also heard people speak hopefully about the future, expressing optimism about solving problems if government can get working again and giving industry confidence to invest in America again.
In 2010, Orman started the Common Sense Coalition, to give people a voice who didn't feel either party represented them.
"There are people who are fiscally responsible and socially tolerant who didn't feel they had a place in either party," he said.
Orman said that organization is changing from an issues-oriented organization to one more focused on political reform and eliminating extremism from politics and policy making.
As an independent, Orman needs to gather 5,000 signatures by Aug. 4 to get his name on the ballot for the Nov. 4 general election. Signature gathering efforts are ongoing in Kansas City, Manhattan, Wichita and at least three-fourths of the state's counties.
Orman isn't sure how many signatures have been gathered so far, but expects to get a report later this week. Still, he said gathering signatures is a great opportunity to engage with people.
While many voters have said they're not yet sold on him, they have also said they want him on the ballot so Kansas can have a choice, Orman said.
In addition to Orman, others running for Roberts' Senate seat include Republicans Milton Wolf of Leawood, Alvin Zahnter of Russell and D.J. Smith of Osawatomie; Democrats Chad Taylor of Topeka and Patrick Wiesner of Lawrence; and Libertarian Randall Batson of Wichita.
Orman and his wife, Sybil, live in Olathe with their two dogs, Mala and Lucy.
Orman's campaign website, www.ormanforsenate.com, includes biographical information, links to news reports, and information about Orman's views on issues important to all Kansans.
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