Former governor played role in helping Wyandotte County


by Murrel Bland

Bill Graves was pleased to have played a role in the significant transformation of Wyandotte County that started in the mid-1990s and continues today.

Former Gov. Bill Graves

That was the message he delivered to an audience of more than 600 persons at the annual meeting of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce Friday, March 7, at the Reardon Convention Center.

Graves, who is now the president of the American Trucking Associations in Washington, D.C., and nearby Arlington, Va., cited three major accomplishments that needed state government approval—the change to a unified city and county government, the authority to issue sales tax bonds necessary to develop Village West and the creation of an independent KU Hospital Authority.

Graves gave much of the credit to other state leaders such as Gary Sherrer, his lieutenant governor and secretary of commerce, and then State Sen. Mark Parkinson.

“Once the election was over, we forgot about party labels,” Graves said. He said that he doubted that such accomplishments could occur today because of the partisan bickering in Topeka.

Graves, grew up in Salina, Kan.; his family owned Graves Truck Lines and had a terminal on Seventh Street here. His father was a good friend of Jay Dillingham who was president of the Kansas City Stockyards. He recalled another Salina native, coach Walt Shublom, who led Wyandotte High School to state championships.

Graves said he had met with Bill France and Lesa France Kennedy privately in Topeka a few years after he took office in 1995. France told him of plans to expand the International Speedway Corp.  to other areas including Kansas. That excited Graves, who said he has been a race fan since childhood. Today he serves on the board of directors of the ISC.

Graves said he worked with Mark Parkinson, a state senator from Olathe, who played a key role in assuring that legislation passed to allow consolidated government in Wyandotte County. Enabling state legislation and a positive vote of the people allowed the Unified Government to become a reality in 1997.

The problems at the KU Medical Center and its hospital needed attention, Graves said. Bob Hemenway, then the KU chancellor, came to Graves explaining that the KU Hospital was losing money and would be in a much better position to compete with area hospitals if it were governed by an independent authority. Graves helped that legislation pass.

Graves also told a humorous story about a meeting in Topeka with Richard Petty, a NASCAR driver with the nickname “The King.” Petty won seven national NASCAR championships and is famous for wearing his big cowboy hat and sunglasses.

Petty had learned that Graves was the only secretary of state in the country to later be elected governor. Graves said Petty was planning to do the same thing in North Carolina and wanted political advice.  Petty ran for secretary of state but lost.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is the executive director of Business West.