A former pharmaceutical company executive who returned to Kansas this year announced Tuesday that he's running for governor, giving Democrats a declared candidate.
Tom Wiggans, 57, appointed a campaign treasurer Tuesday and filed the paperwork required by the state to begin raising money for next year's race. Wiggans has lived in Olathe since January, after spending several decades working for firms outside Kansas.
Wiggans said his experience in running businesses and creating jobs makes him the best candidate to lead the state as it deals with economic problems. He and other Democrats contrasted his business career with the 15-year congressional tenure of the presumed Republican nominee, U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback.
"Our state needs a governor who can speak the language of business, jobs and prosperity," Wiggans said in a statement.
Democrats had been without a declared candidate since Gov. Mark Parkinson and state Democratic Chairman Larry Gates said they wouldn't run. Brownback faces only minor opposition in the GOP primary in August.
Wiggans wasn't available for interviews Tuesday. Campaign adviser Amy Jordan Wooden said he was in meetings and would speak to reporters soon and tour the state.
Meanwhile, the Kansas Republican Party quickly took issue with Wiggans' long absence from the state.
"It is hard to imagine Kansas Democrats would actually nominate for governor someone who has never voted in a Kansas election," party spokeswoman Lisa Burgess said.
Wiggans is a Fredonia native who graduated from the University of Kansas. But officials have found no record of him registering to vote as a student there, and he didn't register in Johnson County until July.
He contributed $10,000 to the Kansas Democratic Party in March, campaign finance records show. He also gave the maximum $2,300 allowed to Democrat Barack Obama's successful campaign for president in 2008.
But the contribution to Obama came in late October, months after Wiggans contributed to three Republican presidential candidates _ Rudolph Giuliani, Mitt Romney and eventual nominee John McCain.
Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said such contributions are a sign Wiggans can work with Republicans. Hensley also said he's not bothered by Wiggans' recent return because "his heart has always been in Kansas."
Wiggans began his career with drug maker Eli Lilly and Co., then worked as an executive at other firms. Most recently, he was CEO and chairman of Peplin Inc., an Emeryville, Calif., dermatology products firm recently bought by LEO Pharma of Denmark.
"Here is a guy who's created jobs, and I don't think Sam Brownback can say that," Hensley said.
Hensley also said many moderate Republicans are looking for an alternative to Brownback, who has taken conservative stands on social issues such as abortion.
But Brownback's campaign so far has stressed economic issues and reached out to prominent moderates.
It declined to respond to Hensley's criticism but touted Brownback's record in office. For example, Brownback's campaign cited the state's successful effort to attract a federal research lab working on biothreats.
"Senator Brownback remains focused on serving the people of Kansas," his campaign said in a statement. "He is working hard to create jobs and grow the Kansas economy.