University of Kansas athletic administrator running for Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate
TOPEKA — Paul Buskirk felt called 16 years ago to extend his contributions to public service by campaigning for the governorship of Kansas.
He put the idea to the test by talking to a handful of close friends. The reaction was mixed. Some were in disbelief. Others found it wonderful. The next step was to seek his wife’s approval. He called her with a pitch outlining how a political novice in Lawrence should face incumbent Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who had dealt with electoral politics since her youth in Ohio.
“I said, ‘Lauren, that’s what I think. What do you think’?” said Buskirk. “There was this long pause on the other end of the phone. She said, ‘Hmm, I love Kathleen Sebelius. I don’t think I could vote for you. This campaign fizzled out and went down. crushed and burned very quickly.
Sixteen years later, Buskirk responded to his political impulses by seeking the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. Senate. There are six Democrats and two Republicans vying — not Sebelius — for the seat held by U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, the Kansas Republican.
Buskirk, director of academic support at the University of Kansas athletics department, said his family members have always been involved in service, whether as a teacher, doctor, pastor or as a another way. The timing of his 2022 quest feels better on a personal level, he said. Another layer of motivation appeared on May 2 when Politico reported that a conservative majority on the United States Supreme Court was set to overturn Roe v. Wade and overturn 50 years of legal precedent on abortion rights.
“The world changed a bit and turned around on May 2,” he said.
He said he would not try to change voters’ minds on abortion, but that he wanted the Senate to seriously consider the critical child welfare issues raised by the possible overthrow of Roe and the eventual passage on August 2 of an amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring nothing in the state’s bill of rights granted a woman the right to an abortion.
In a politically divisive atmosphere, Buskirk said, the interests of children born into unstable families should be at the forefront of public debate on abortion.
“Maybe the mother is not prepared to be able to take care of this child. Maybe she didn’t really want the child. We so need to talk more about adoption services,” Buskirk said.
Buskirk joined a field of candidates with six Democrats, including Mike Andra of Wichita, Mark Holland of Kansas City, Kansas, Robert Klingenberg of Salina, Michael Soetaert of Alta Vista and Paul Wiesner of Overland Park. On the GOP side of the ledger, Manhattan’s Moran is running in the primary against Derby’s Joan Farr. Farr, who previously ran for governor against Sam Brownback, is running for the U.S. Senate simultaneously from Kansas and Oklahoma.
Buskirk said he had never met Moran, but saw the senator as someone with “character integrity.” He also said Moran had made some “disturbing” decisions over the past two years.
Buskirk grew up in Nebraska and Colorado before moving to Derby. He enrolled at KU to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. He added a master’s degree in counseling psychology. During his graduate studies, he was involved in academic support services for KU students. He stayed and worked in education for 33 years.
“I work with our 500 student-athletes who come to the University of Kansas,” Buskirk said. “If you come to Kansas, we will give you every opportunity to succeed in athletics and in studies. So the student makes the choice, he comes to Kansas, the coaches take care of the athletic part, then they give us the rest of the responsibility.
He said he was alarmed by the violence perpetrated against children in schools across the country. He said the Senate must rise to the challenge of mental illnesses that plague children and young adults. It is not the whole response to violence, he said, but part of the response to a national emergency.
The constitutional right to bear arms was developed when men and women owned guns that required a little gunpowder, a lead bullet and a striking rod to reload, he said. The law is expected to reflect the realities of gun technology allowing an 18-year-old to legally buy a military-style assault weapon and walk into a Texas elementary school to slaughter 19 fourth-graders and two teachers, he said.
“I don’t think savvy founders would have a problem saying, ‘You want to buy a gun?’ Cool. Extend background time on checks.’ I’m pretty sure the same founders would say if somebody has mental health issues, I’m not sure they want them carrying a gun,” Buskirk said.
Buskirk said he did not agree with former President Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election won by President Joe Biden was tainted with corruption. He said people clinging to unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about voter fraud were likely just angry about a Democrat being elected.
The actions of local, state and federal government agencies to thwart the COVID-19 pandemic have been denounced by people opposed to limits on mass gatherings, vaccination programs or mask-wearing as an intrusion on individual freedoms. Buskirk does not fall into this camp.
“It is the government’s obligation to be intrusive when the well-being of the population is at risk. I think that’s the role we expect of them… to save us. Maybe not always perfect, but don’t just sit around and do nothing,” he said.