Delivering the Democratic response to President Bush's State of the Union address will give Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius a prominent spot on the national political stage.
The speech will be a huge challenge for the governor but also offers a wonderful opportunity to draw positive attention not only to herself but also to the state of Kansas.
The choice of a Midwestern governor to represent the Democratic Party in this important speech is a little unusual, but it may reflect a desire to find a spokesman outside the Washington Beltway. The two leading Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives already have given State of the Union responses: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in 2004 and Majority Leader Harry Reid in 2005. In the last five years, two governors - Tim Kaine of Virginia in 2006 and Gov. Gary Locke of Washington in 2003 - have delivered the Democratic response. Last year's response was made by Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia.
In some ways, Sebelius seems the natural choice for this year's response. She's a Democratic governor who has successfully attracted many Republican voters and worked reasonably well with a Republican Legislature. She just finished a term as chairwoman of the National Democratic Governors Association and is young enough to have some political future ahead of her.
Pondering a political future while serving in elected office can be a tricky proposition. On one hand, it's a compliment for any state to have an elected official who others think might have a place on the national stage. On the other hand, people worry that such an official may be distracted from his or her current duties or may do something that might not reflect well on the state.
Kansans, for instance, seemed to have no reservations about former Sen. Bob Dole's forays into national politics, including a stint as the chairman of the National Republican Party and a run for the vice presidency. Dole chose to step down from the Senate in his last presidential race, but wasn't under any particularly pressure from his Kansas constituents to do so.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., faced a slightly different situation in his bid for the presidency last year. Although he didn't get much pressure to resign his seat, some Kansans were concerned about how many votes he was missing in Washington and also whether his candidacy was a positive reflection on the state.
Sebelius reportedly made sure that she and her Kansas staff would "have control and write" the speech she delivers on Jan. 28. Because this is a key speech for the Democratic Party in a presidential election year, however, the national party undoubtedly will have a hand in what the governor says.
Although she is speaking on behalf of the Democratic Party, Sebelius also will be representing the people of Kansas. We congratulate her and hope that she does us proud.