State budget fixed. Check.
School finance lawsuit dismissed. Check.
Re-elected by wide margin. Check.
National recognition. Check.
That's an oversimplified checklist for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, but by most accounts Sebelius starts her second term with some political clout.
The question becomes how will she use it.
"It's an open book," said Loran Smith, a political science professor at Washburn University.
Smith said Sebelius, a Democrat, can either play it safe by presenting a modest agenda to the Republican-dominated Legislature when the legislative session starts Jan. 8 or "damn the torpedoes."
Sebelius has gained a reputation through national publications as a bipartisan problem-solver, has amassed record political contributions in Kansas and was recently elected chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association.
That has fueled speculation about whether she will pursue another political office, such as the U.S. Senate in 2008 or 2010, be part of a White House ticket in 2008 or get a high-ranking federal job if Democrats win the next presidential election.
But in an interview with the Lawrence Journal-World, Sebelius said she's committed to her current job.
"I ran for governor to be governor. This is really where my focus is and will remain," she said.
She said the national attention is flattering, but that it's really a reflection of positive news about the state of Kansas.
In the interview, Sebelius focused on meat-and-potato issues for the upcoming session: education, health care, the economy and energy.
Interview with Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
- Sebelius on deferred maintenance
- Sebelius on education
- Sebelius on emissions
- Sebelius on energy
- Sebelius on energy independence
- Sebelius on gambling
- Sebelius on her political aspirations
- Sebelius on the Big Tent Coalition
- Sebelius on the Kansas Corporation Commission
- Sebelius on the KU medical center
- Sebelius on the state's growing economy
On public schools, she said the state will solidify funding the last two years of a $466 million increase. That plan led to the dismissal of a school finance lawsuit that had tied state officials in knots the past couple of years.
Sebelius also said she wants to phase in full-day kindergarten statewide and initiate some preschool programs.
She promised to lay out a plan to address the $727 million worth of deferred maintenance projects at state regents universities.
And Sebelius weighed in favor of recent discussions by the Kansas University Medical Center to pursue affiliations with other health care institutions, including those in Missouri.
"We have such a tremendous opportunity," she said in making a world-class research and treatment center that would benefit Kansas.
Without providing specifics, Sebelius said she will have a "major energy push" that includes conservation, economic incentives for rural development and some targeted tax cuts for employers.
On health care, Sebelius repeated earlier promises to extend state coverage to all children from birth through 5 years old.
"Working families are really struggling with affordable health care," she said. A recent study by Washington-based Families USA said health insurance costs in Kansas are increasing nearly five times faster than wages.
She said details of her proposals would be unveiled during her State of the State speech to the Legislature on Jan. 10 and the release of her proposed budget the next day.
Smith, the Washburn professor, says despite Sebelius' minority party status in Kansas, she is dealing from strength.
She was re-elected in November with 58 percent of the vote even though Republicans enjoy a sizable advantage in voter registration.
"If you oppose her, it better be on good grounds and not partisan grounds," he said.
Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius
- Education, economy among top priorities (12-22-06)
- Sebelius: Coal plants likely (12-21-06)
- Sebelius won't sign off on Kline's district attorney appointment (12-21-06)
- Sebelius to address university repairs (12-15-06)
- B-ball bounces Sebelius speech (12-08-06)
- Sebelius to lead Democratic governors (12-05-06)
- Sebelius: ID rules could cause Kansans to lose health coverage (11-30-06)
- Sebelius wants changes to Medicaid rules (11-29-06)
- Sebelius lays out priorities for second term (11-08-06)