Hundreds filled Fort Hays State University’s Beach/Schmidt Performing Arts Center on Monday for “An Evening with Kathleen Sebelius” — the first lecture of FHSU’s 2015-16 Sebelius Lecture Series.
Staff, students and the general public had the opportunity to receive answers while learning about political ambition and accomplishment from Sebelius, who formerly served as the governor of Kansas before becoming the U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services to President Barack Obama.
“I think people will see a little bit of themselves on the stage because of her connections to Kansas,” said Vincent Bowhay, assistant director of FHSU’s Memorial Union.
Sebelius is the daughter-in-law of the late Keith Sebelius, a 1941 graduate of FHSU and Norton native who served as a U.S. representative for 12 years, and who the university’s lecture series is named after.
The memories of her father-in-law’s social skills are something Sebelius said still stand out in her mind.
“He could be in a large room and greet by name hundreds of people, and not only greet you, but ask about your wife, ask about your kids,” she said. “I found that to be totally remarkable and just a measure of a man who was busy, but who took those personal situations to heart.”
The lecture was a moderated discussion led by Dr. Chapman Rackaway, FHSU professor of political science.
Subject matters varied and included information on Sebelius’ personal life, recent work, Kansas governorship from 2003 to 2009, and her service and policy implementation while a part of President Obama’s Cabinet as the 21st secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services from 2009 to 2014.
The Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, was a big part of the discussion. Sebelius led the effort to pass the health reform while serving in Obama’s Cabinet.
“I’m the first to admit the website launch was pretty flawed,” she said. “I said it was flawed and I held myself accountable for it.”
Though she admitted the launch had its mistakes, Sebelius emphasized the success of the policy implementation.
“It works, it’s functioning, and we have almost 22 million people now with coverage,” she said.
As for the affects in Kansas, Sebelius said, “You’ll have to ask Governor Brownback why he has chosen to deny 150,000 low-income Kansans healthcare.”
When looking back on her time as governor, Sebelius said she felt good about the progress that was made.
“We tackled some tough issues,” she said.
Rackaway asked Sebelius to think about the current Legislature of Kansas, and asked her what different approaches she would take.
“I think the rebuilding has to start a seed at a time, a voice at a time,” she said.
She spoke about the impact of those who discourage voter registration and current problems that exist which make it more difficult for people to vote.
“We have a lot of potential voters who need to speak up, speak out, stand up,” she said.
Reclaiming the voting process in Kansas, Sebelius believes, is the first step needed to turn things around.
“I think there are a lot of people who want to see a change and are very alarmed by what’s happening in the state,” she said. “I just hope they will take the next step, roll up their sleeves, and become part of the solution.”