Archive for Friday, February 6, 2004

First-ever online chat with governor provides forum for curious Kansans

February 6, 2004

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— Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Thursday participated in her first public online chat and indicated she was willing to back off abolishing the state employee van-pool program.

Sebelius fielded questions from the public ranging from school finance to the well-being of the "first dude" during her 20-minute chat on ljworld.com.

She was asked by a Lawrence resident if she was reconsidering her position on discontinuing the van pool, a program that provides large vans for state employees to commute to and from work. About 270 people ride the vans, many of them from Lawrence.

Sebelius said she still opposed the program, but if the Legislature wanted to continue it "then I won't stand in the way of the legislation."

Sebelius said it was inappropriate for the state to subsidize the travel expenses of a group of state employees, and she said nonstate employees also were taking advantage of the system.

Van-pool riders claim the fees they pay to ride pay for the program. They have flooded legislators with e-mail, urging them to continue the program.

A bill sponsored by the Lawrence delegation has been filed that would continue the van pool.

On school finance, Sebelius said she believed attempts to increase local taxes for schools would be ruled unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court. A lower court has ruled the state finance system unconstitutional because it shortchanges minority students.

Sebelius also said she had recommitted state funds to higher education for faculty salary increases, and that her husband, Gary Sebelius, often called "first dude," was adjusting well to his role as a federal magistrate and the husband of a governor.

"He seems to have made it through the first year unscathed," the governor said.



Sebelius declined to say who she planned to endorse in the Democratic presidential race, though she noted her son Ned works on the campaign of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

And Sebelius begged off offering an opinion on the recent Massachusetts court ruling that says gay marriages must be recognized.

The chat covered seven questions out of more than 30 queries submitted by readers.

After the chat was over, Sebelius said she felt the format was "pretty awkward."

World Online Intern Beth Lawton would read the question to Sebelius over the telephone and then type in Sebelius' answer onto the Web site.

Sebelius, asked if she thought the chat was an effective way to communicate with Kansans, was noncommittal.

"I have no idea. I mean, I have no idea what -- who monitors this -- or pays any attention to it, so, that's pretty difficult to answer," she said.

The Web site is one of the most visited news sites in the Midwest, said Rob Curley, director of new media for The World Company, which publishes the Journal-World and www.ljworld.com.

"While the chat was going we had hundreds and hundreds of people checking in and reading," Curley said, "but we know from the history of our other chats that many more read the transcript after the live portion of the chat is over."

An exact tally of how many viewed the Sebelius chat in the immediate hours after its posting will be available today.

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