Kansas Gov. Joan Finney Reckons With Administrative Revolving Door
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ When Gov. Joan Finney campaigned for her job on a promise to be different, she wasn’t kidding. But the revolving door of her administration may not be what the 67-year-old populist Democrat meant.
And try as she might to break political and social convention by hiring Republicans and a convicted child molester among other appointees, Mrs. Finney is finding some leave as fast as they come in.
In her 18 months in office, Mrs. Finney’s 10 cabinet posts have been held by 21 people.
″As long as she appoints Democratic women, she’s fine,″ state House Majority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, said jokingly. ″She gets in trouble when she appoints men and Republicans.″
Mrs. Finney likes going her own way.
A former Republican and aide to the late U.S. Sen. Frank Carlson, R-Kansas, Mrs. Finney switched parties in 1974 to run for state treasurer. She held that office for 16 years until her election as governor in 1990.
″You’re talking about a pretty stubborn person who’s played the game by her own rules for a long time,″ said Burdett Loomis, a political scientist at the University of Kansas.
For example, she’s long made a practice of visiting every city nook and town cranny of Kansas on a regular basis to stay on a friendly and informed basis with voters. She’s also noted for her anti-abortion stance.
Mrs. Finney also is mercurial when it comes to her appearance. This year her hair went from gray to near-black to frosted blond, and back to gray.
But it’s the changes in her administration’s makeup that can be dizzying. And they give Republicans plenty of opportunity to attack her leadership, though it’s an open question whether any of it has hurt her politically.
″I think what it says is that she needs a little more help,″ said state Rep. Rochelle Chronister of Neodesha, a former state GOP chairwoman. ″I think it comes back to competence. I think that question will be raised.″
Democrats defend her by noting her key role in pushing through a $293 million property tax relief package.
Mrs. Finney has said her critics have diverted attention from that success by dwelling on the administrative turmoil. ″I’ve made some excellent appointments and I’m really concerned about the attacks that have been made upon my record of appointments,″ she said.
The first ruckus was raised over her promotion of Jim Cobler, longtime fiscal chief in the Department of Administration, to administration secretary, a key cabinet post.
Mrs. Finney fired Cobler after Republicans complained that his purchase of $3.1 million worth of computers defied legislative cost-cutting limits.
So she gave the job to John Hennessy, a former Republican party official who joined the Democrats to support Mrs. Finney in 1990 because she opposes abortion.
Hennessy lasted one week. He resigned in February after it was reported that an oil company he once owned published a 1982 promotional calendar with photos of scantily clad women and racial slurs.
Then there was Laura Nicholl, a manufacturer of picnic tables and another Republican, who stayed in the GOP but joined Mrs. Finney’s election campaign. In gratitude, Mrs. Finney appointed Ms. Nicholl commerce secretary.
Mrs. Finney fired Ms. Nicholl on June 25 for disobeying orders not to travel overseas for agency business.
But Mrs. Finney even stunned fellow Democrats last month by hiring Herbert Ketterman to collect state abortion statistics, a job paying $30,000 a year. Ketterman, a former physician, went to prison in the 1980s for molesting a 14- year-old girl, the daughter of one of his patients.
Mrs. Finney’s intention of showing someone could be rehabilitated backfired when Ketterman’s hiring and background came to light. He resigned in less than 3 weeks.
The latest upheaval occurred last Wednesday when Wildlife and Parks Secretary Jack Lacey resigned to avert criminal charges for issuing hunter- safety certificates to three people, including Mrs. Finney’s daughter, Mary Holladay, who is also her mother’s acting chief of staff.
The three had failed to get 10 hours of safety training required by law.
One of Mrs. Finney’s critics offered sympathy.
″The most difficult thing for a governor to do is appoint people to these various posts,″ said former Gov. Robert Bennett, a Republican who held the office from 1975-79. ″Unfortunately, the ones who are not so whippy (on the ball) are the ones who stand out.″
Mrs. Finney insists that by the time she seeks re-election in 1994, voters will have forgotten the high turnover in her administration. Instead, they’ll appreciate her management of a fiscally healthy state.
″That’s what’s the bottom line,″ she said.