Four-term Topeka Sen. Laura Kelly in mid-December filed to run in a crowded gubernatorial race, becoming the first woman to do so.
Kelly, a Democrat, said she felt compelled to run for governor after watching the state’s economy spiral downward during the past several years.
“I’ve spent the last seven years in the Legislature fighting against some of the ill-advised policies of the current administration,” Kelly said. “I have witnessed first-hand the problems that were created by the Brownback tax experiment. I know where the problems are, and I would like to get to work in the governor’s office to fix them.”
Kelly stopped in Hays last weekend en route to a Democratic debate in Colby, and had a meet-and-greet event with supporters at the home of Janis Lee, a former state senator who represented the region for many years.
Important services that need to be restored include public education and road infrastructure, she said.
“We’ve gone from adequately funding our schools to short-changing them, and we’ve seen lots of problems with that,” Kelly said. “School classrooms being much larger than usual and no support personnel, school counselors, gone. All the kinds of things that really make a school work have been stripped. We need to restore that funding.”
She said Brownback’s income tax cuts left the state’s finances in “a shamble,” but she thinks things are moving in the right direction after the Legislature voted last summer to override the governor and restore most of those tax cuts.
“I’ve watched dedicated funds for things like highways be used to just pay our bills because of the tax experiment,” she said. “I’ve watched people lose access to health care. I’ve watched rural hospitals close, and it’s just not acceptable. We need to change that.”
She specifically noted the state’s foster care, corrections and mental health programs have been hit hard by funding cuts and are areas that require attention.
Kelly is an advocate of Medicaid expansion, and said the state has missed out on $2 billion from the federal government by refusing to expand the low-income insurance program.
She serves as a ranking minority member of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee, as well as on the Ways and Means Committee. If elected, Kelly said she will continue working to build consensus across party lines.
“My strategy will be the same as it has been in the Senate. I will convene folks from all sides of the aisle and put the best and brightest together to come up with solutions,” she said. “We have seen what that bigger partisanship can do to a state. It really tore us apart for about four years. My modus operandi has always been to reach across the aisle and to work with folks to create good public policy.”
Kelly said her 18th Senate district encompasses both urban and rural areas, which has helped give her an understanding of challenges facing the state’s diverse economies. She also traveled the state extensively in her previous job as executive director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association.
“My whole platform, really, is to make Kansas the best place to work and to live and to raise a family,” she said. “It’s why I’m here. I moved to Kansas 32 years ago, and my husband and I made that decision because of the great opportunities that Kansas had — the schools, the jobs available, the communities available. I want to restore that so other Kansans can enjoy the same benefits.”