Olathe businessman Greg Orman, who is running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Pat Roberts, visited the Courier office Friday afternoon to discuss his campaign. Orman announced his candidacy June 3. This is his first campaign stop in Winfield.
Orman sees himself as a problem-solving entrepreneur who can take ideas from both major parties to help solve gridlock and partisanship in Washington, D.C.
In 1992, while working for consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Orman founded Environmental Lighting Concepts (ELC), a company that designed and installed energy efficient lighting systems for commercial and industrial companies. Orman left McKinsey in 1994 to run ELC full time. As CEO of ELC, Orman opened a second office in Kansas and other offices around the country before selling 70 percent of the company to Kansas City Power & Light in November 1996. He then took over management of KCP&L’s energy services operations and eventually the company’s entire portfolio of competitive businesses. He grew the business more than tenfold, from less than $100 million dollars to almost a billion dollars in annual revenue.
In 2004, Orman co-founded Denali Partners, LLC, and has been working to provide capital and management services to help small businesses grow since then.
Orman said his business experience is “very relevant” to his candidacy and makes him ideally suited to work on problems in Washington.
“I spend my days dealing with issues people in Washington only talk about,” Orman said. These issues include health care, government regulations and and balancing budgets. “Ultimately, I solve problems every day.”
A top issue affecting Kansas voters is a tough economy and slow job growth, Orman said. He think if Congress can do its job and people know this, it would help promote job creation.
Orman also discussed what he called the “new American paradox,” that it has become harder for people to get ahead but easier for them to do nothing with their lives. Billions of dollars are spent in this country to make higher education more affordable, Orman said, yet all this has led to is higher tuition. He suggested making colleges and universities more accountable for bringing down tuition costs if they want to continue receiving tax dollars.
Orman also talked about abuses of the Social Security-disability system as another example of this paradox. While this system needs to be preserved for people who need it, such as the developmentally disabled, Orman claims 20 cents of every dollar spent on Social Security now goes toward disability payments. When President Bill Clinton left office there were four million Americans on disability; that number has now grown to nine million, Orman said.
He also discussed agriculture, particularly water issues; foreign policy; and the environment.
Steps that would help deal with water problems include helping manage water levels in the Ogalallah Aquifer, evaluating federal policies to determine if they inadvertently promote increased water use and possibly transporting water from flood-prone areas to drier areas that need it.
On foreign policy, Orman said while there are times when the United States needs to take a clear position and act on it, lawmakers need to consider the full costs of war, including human. Over 600,000 veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder, Orman said. Any role the U.S. might take on in Iraq should be limited, he said, and Orman suggested using intelligence gathering to ensure Iraq does not become a “hotbed of anti-American activity.”
Orman said a “false choice” has been created for environmental issues: The country can have either a good economy or good environmental policies, but not both. He used the business he formally owned, ELC, as an example that this does not have to be the case. ELC customers saved money while reducing their carbon footprints and the amount of energy resources used. “I think the private sector can help deliver solutions to public sector problems,” he said.
Orman has been a registered Democrat and a registered Republican at different times in his life, but he has been an independent for far longer. He likes having the ability to support the best ideas, regardless of which party they come from. Orman said he is more interested in solving problems than aligning with a specific party position. He decided the best way to do this is to challenge the two-party system.
Independent candidates are nominated by a petition of qualified voters. Campaign activities include gathering the 5,000 signatures from registered Kansas voters required to be on the November general election ballot. Orman has also met with chambers of commerce throughout the state to discuss business needs with their members and has talked to the media about his candidacy. Two television commercials were also released this week by the Orman campaign.
When asked how close he is to having the required number of signatures, Orman did not give a number, but he said within the next couple of weeks, he thinks there will be enough so he and his team can make a decision on whether to file for the election or to continue collecting signatures. The filing deadline for independent candidates is noon the day before the state primary election on the first Tuesday in August.
Orman said he has received signatures from voters in more than 90 Kansas counties. His goal is not only to get on the ballot, but to receive signatures from voters in all 105 counties.
Response to Orman’s campaign has been “overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
“Most people realize we are sending extremists (to Washington), not people who can solve problems,” Orman said. He repeated a comment told to him once by former Kansas Senator Bob Dole, that when Dole was in office, the Senate was able to get things done because the people on the other side of the aisle were friends.
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