Kansas' moderate Republican insurance commissioner, Sandy Praeger, who supported setting up a state-run health care exchange, is planning not to seek a fourth term in 2014. Praeger's decision opens the door for an aide to Gov. Sam Brownback (R), a federal health care law foe, to run in her place.
Kansas Securities Commissioner Aaron Jack has created a website and is planning a Dec. 19 fundraiser for a 2014 race for state insurance commissioner. The move comes weeks after Brownback rejected Praeger's plan to create a state-run exchange, and also follows election results that show the domination of the conservative wing of the state Republican Party only continuing to grow. Praeger's spokesman, Bob Hanson, told The Huffington Post that she is not planning to run for reelection.
"The commissioner keeps options open," Hanson said. "Her plans are not to run."
Hanson said he would "not speculate" as to whether or not Praeger's run-ins with Brownback over the health care exchange impacted her decision not to run in 2014, noting she is in her third term.
Praeger told HuffPost in February that she believed the state should control the exchange, and voiced her concern that a federally run exchange could cause issues for the state's Medicaid program.
In 2010, Jack, the Brownback aide, gave a speech to a Tea Party group calling the Affordable Care Act "unconstitutional." Jack touted a state legislative resolution he and other Republicans filed calling on then-state Attorney General Stephen Six (D) and then Gov. Mark Parkinson (D) to file a lawsuit against the federal health care law.
"So I’m speaking today because we need your help! Our liberal Kansas governor and attorney general are refusing to join the other 18 states in declaring that ObamaCare is unconstitutional," Jack said in the speech, archived on his website. "We need everyone here to go home and email or write a letter to the governor and attorney general asking them to reconsider their disappointing, weak decision."
In the speech, Jack also forshadowed former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's 47-percent comments.
"I’m sure you all heard the news last week that 47 precent of Americans now pay no federal income tax whatsoever," Jack said. "Well let me tell you it is an honor to stand here and be surrounded by the 53 percent of proud Americans that actually do pay all the taxes!"
Jack, a former state legislator from the Wichita, Kansas, area, was named to the securities commissioner post by Brownback in 2011. According to his state biography, he previously worked at several financial services companies on wholesale investment products, annuities and mutual funds. Jack was not in his Topeka office Monday and could not be reached for comment.
According to the fundraising invitation, guests are asked to donate either $100, $250 or $500 to Jack's campaign. The invitation identifies him as "securities commissioner and a Republican candidate for Kansas insurance commissioner. The evening event is being held at a downtown Topeka office building that houses several insurance companies.
Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon said she is not surprised by Praeger's decision not to run again, citing her disagreements with Brownback. Wagnon said the party is still in the process of recruiting statewide candidates for 2014. The ACA has been a key opposition point for conservatives in Kansas in the 2012 election, with flyers from the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Koch-brothers funded Americans for Prosperity painting Democrats and moderate Republicans as ACA supporters.
"We're certainly going to be recruiting a candidate who can run a good race," Wagnon told HuffPost. "The whole health care issue is important to Democrats. Sandy Praeger is a good insurance commissioner. She carried the ball so Kansans can get the health care they need, we need that in an insurance commissioner."
UPDATE: 7:30 p.m. -- Clayton Barker, executive director of the Kansas Republican Party, told HuffPost that Jack is unlikely to have the GOP field for insurance commissioner to himself for long. Barker said former deputy insurance commissioner Bob Tomlinson and insurance agency owner David Powell have both expressed interest in seeking the Republican nomination. Powell lost a 2010 GOP primary to Praeger.
Barker said that much of the fundraising now is exploratory for candidates. He said he does not expect campaigning for the August 2014 primary to kick into high gear for a while.
"The general rule is that serious primary campaigns will be up and running by Kansas Day (the last weekend in January) 2014," Barker said in an email. "So lots of time."