TOPEKA —Gov.-elect Laura Kelly promised Thursday to fill her administration with a diverse group of policy specialists to address challenges fostered by two Republican predecessors and to establish as first-year priorities investment in public schools and expansion of Medicaid to the uninsured.
During the news conference at the Capitol, the Democrat said she wouldn’t be blinded by partisan loyalties when making appointments to the Cabinet and other key positions in the executive branch.
“It will be diverse, dynamic and highly skilled,” Kelly said. “People who know what they’re doing. Highly-skilled people will be our No. 1 choice. We need really top-notch managers.”
Kelly said she would strive to work with Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature to form bipartisan solutions and was loath to “waste time or taxpayer dollars on partisan fights.” That effort will reflect a desire to shift the tone of the governor’s office away from aggressive partisan division, she said.
The Tuesday election affirmed the inevitable -- the House and Senate remain under Republican control.
The Topeka state senator, who will be inaugurated in January, said she would issue an executive order soon after taking office to reverse decisions by Gov. Jeff Colyer and former Gov. Sam Brownback to withhold employment discrimination protection from gay, lesbian and transgender state workers. The job protection was established by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius in 2007, but removed by Brownback in 2015.
“I am planning to actually have the executive order drafted before I take office so that as soon as it is possible to do that I’ll reinstate it,” the governor-elect said.
In terms of public education, Kelly said, the state would no longer “get by just doing the minimum. We will truly invest in our children’s future.” The state has been mired in years of school-finance litigation resulting in decisions by the Kansas Supreme Court to compel infusion of more than $500 million into public education.
“At the end of the day, we want our children to graduate high school or from college and find jobs right here in Kansas and stay here and raise their families close to home,” she said.
Kelly said her administration would collaborate on a plan to expand eligibility for Medicaid to reach thousands of Kansans lacking access to health care. Brownback vetoed a Medicaid expansion bill, and Colyer opposed expansion efforts.
She said Medicaid reform, which she expects to complete during her first year in office, would benefit financially struggling rural hospitals and pull federal tax dollars back to Kansas.
Complexities of repairing Brownback-era policy on health care, education, taxes, transportation, foster care, adoption, corrections and other areas would be a “long and challenging process,” she said.
“Many of you know me pretty well from my years in the Senate,” Kelly said. “You know me as pretty much a no-nonsense problem solver who will work with anyone to get results for the people of Kansas. That’s how I have always worked and that’s how I will govern.”