The "Build Stuff" party


Regional/ Kansas City:


By Jack Cashill
July 2006

Say it ain’t so, Mark! Former Kansas GOP Chair, Mark Parkinson’s decision to jump ship and sail away as Democrat governor Kathleen Sebelius’ first mate has irked me, but not for the reasons you might expect. For years, I have had my eye on Mark. Hustling businessman that he is, he has seemed a likely candidate to head up a new party of my imagination.

My goal is to find a political home for those citizens in either state, of either party, who just want to see stuff get built. These aren’t bad guys by the way. I know lots of them. They’re smart, ambitious and fun to hang out with. By and large, though, they don’t give a flying fig about the larger social and moral issues shaping the country’s future. In this, of course, they are hardly alone.

Many Americans—maybe most—could care less about abortion, illegal immigration, the environment, judicial activism, stem cell research, gay rights, crime, school prayer, the second amendment, pornography, property rights, taxes and other such distractions. Now that these folks have 200 channels on their cables and 2,000 songs on their I-Pods, they have amusement enough. Call them “moderates,” if you like, but they just don’t care. They happily ignore elections, state of the unions, even wars.

The problem, however, is that those who aspire to political power, even locally, have to fake some interest in at least some of the above issues. So the “Build Stuff” (BS) Republicans who live in Johnson County pretend to care a little bit about lower taxes, gun rights and family values. The BS Democrats in Jackson County meanwhile pretend to care a little bit about gay rights, global warming and labor unions.

To gain control of a party, our friends who care mostly about building stuff have to contend with people who actually believe in stuff. Heck, in Kansas, the BS guys would have been out of the power loop a long time ago were it not for a local media eager to echo charges of “extremism” against anyone who believes half-way passionately in anything.

Still, this is all so much needless fuss for the BS guys in either county, who just want to play golf and see that stuff gets built. Private? Public? Public-private? Private-public? Court decreed? Who cares as long as they and/or their pals get to a do at least a little of the deal?

Citizens who think in such straightforward terms deserve a party that honors their ambition and a leader who will boldly articulate it. Parkinson could still be the guy. He does not, however, make a very convincing Democrat. I just can’t see him, for instance, leaping to his feet at the sound of Hillary Clinton’s name two years hence and shouting himself hoarse as the balloons descend. I don’t think he can either.

According to his campaign bio, Parkinson quit his law practice in 1996 “to focus on a new passion: helping enhance older Kansans’ quality of life through first-class assisted living facilities.” This “new passion,” of course, is political jabberwocky for “building stuff.” Park could be our guy.

Admittedly, Parkinson has got some partisan baggage. From 1999-2003, he served as Kansas state GOP Chair. Try as he might, Parkinson cannot easily write off these four years as a youthful indiscretion.

Chairman Mark, after all, led the charge for George W. for president in 2000 and Phil Kline for Congress in that same year. In the 2002 gubernatorial race, Parkinson not only supported conservative gubernatorial candidate, Tim Shallenberger, but he also slammed those who did not.

“I would say that any Republican who supports Kathleen Sebelius for governor is either insincere or uninformed,” he told his colleagues at the time adding, “She is a left-wing liberal Democrat and no Republican in good conscience can support her.”

Given rhetoric of such recent vintage, Parkinson’s historic defection last month seemed as surreal as an Andy Kauffman routine. Observers kept waiting for him to break character and yell out “Punked” or “Candid Camera” or some such thing.

Parkinson’s “I’m not leaving the party, the party is leaving me” riff amused onlookers even more. So comically off-key did this old saw ring that even the Star’s ever-credulous Mike Hendricks had to swallow hard to believe it. Parkinson was, after all, a guy who just a few years earlier had supported right wingers Bush, Kline and Shallenberger. How much further right could the party have gone in the meantime? And why had no one else noticed?

To convince skeptics of his sincerity, and more than a few on either side of the aisle need convincing, Parkinson had to conjure up some more believable rationale for jumping ship than an imagined rightward turn in his party. To accomplish this, he chose to reinvent not himself—he remained the same straight shooter—but the good governor.

“Governor Sebelius’ new style of leadership has completely changed my view of her,” he told those gathered at his historic announcement. He then riffed on about how “politics has become a blood sport” and how “this partisan attack politics . . . makes me sick. ” OK, so he went a little bit over the top. He’s not really a Democrat, remember. He just plays one on TV.

The real change, however, has not so much been in Parkinson’s view of Sebelius as in his status within the Republican Party. The BS guys in Kansas lost control of the party apparatus as they periodically do. Rather than to work to get that power back, Parkinson and a few pals have found it more expedient to grab on to Sebelius’ incumbent coat tails and slipstream behind her to power and the building of still more stuff.

Building stuff is good. In most circumstances, I’m all for it. It would just be so much better if one could champion the building of stuff more civilly and more honestly. And so before Parkinson finds himself trapped at a “Sustainable Kansas” organic pot-luck in Lawrence wearing a “Hustlers for Hillary” button, I offer him a way back to integrity, the chairmanship of the BSBS, the Bi-State Build Stuff party. To make it easy, I have already written his first speech. I, Mark Parkinson, would like to welcome one and all to the Bi-State Build Stuff Party. Our goal is to get stuff built in either state. Our motto: “If you scratch my back. I’ll scratch yours.”

Here, we can be ourselves. No more pretending to care about issues and no more power struggles with those who actually do. And hey, it’s not that we disagreed with those “extremists” (pause for laughter). It’s just that their beliefs were costing us money.

Take embryonic stem cell research. Please! (drum roll) Opposition scares away Big Bio. Big Bio builds stuff. We’re all for stem cell research. As to cloning, yea, let’s clone Stowers on our side of the state line (pause again for laughter).

Higher ed builds stuff. They like Darwin. We like Darwin. If the Intelligent Design people say they’ve got a few hundred big ones to turn Topeka into an ID theme park, we say, “Charlie Who?”.

Gambling may make the poor poorer, but they don’t build anything anyhow. Hell, even their homes were made in China. The casinos build stuff. Building stuff makes everyone richer. Yes on gambling, gaming, whatever!

Taxes? Keep them high enough to build new public stuff, but not so high that they scare away people who build private stuff. TIF? We think Leawood is blighted. (hit the cymbal) Environmental regulation? Our cash flow is the only thing endangered in Kansas. Let’s protect that. Schools? Let’s build some more. Eminent domain reform? Fughettaboutit!

Drinking? You bet. The bar is open. The party has just begun.



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