Kathleen Sebelius is the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services in Obama's Cabinet. She has served as Kansas' governor since 2002 and before that was insurance commissioner and a state representative.
Topeka Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson said Monday that he’s “ready to serve” if Gov. Kathleen Sebelius is appointed U.S. Health and Human Services secretary, but he still won’t run for governor in 2010.
The Statehouse continued to buzz with speculation about Sebelius. A senior official in President Barack Obama’s administration has said she’s a top candidate for the Cabinet job.
Parkinson said he and Sebelius have discussed the possibility but added that he has no information about her chances beyond what he has read in news report. Sebelius’ departure automatically would elevate Parkinson to governor.
“I really am not going to comment on what the governor may or may not do,” Parkinson said during an interview. “But I do want to say this: The primary job of a lieutenant governor is to be ready to be governor, if that situation ever arises. And I want folks to know that, if it’s this week or next week, or under any circumstances, I’m ready to serve.”
Sebelius kept to her normal schedule Monday, which included a round of proclamation signings at her Statehouse office. She also planned to participate in three events Tuesday and Wednesday with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Sebelius said her biggest concern remains a projected $199 million deficit in the state budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
“I’m not speculating about anything,” Sebelius said. “I haven’t had any conversations with the president, and right now, I’m really focused on doing the job here in Kansas.”
Sebelius is a contender for the Health and Human Services job because Obama’s first pick, former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, withdrew over questions about his failure to fully pay his taxes in recent years.
Last month, before Daschle withdrew, Parkinson announced that he does not plan to run for governor in 2010. Many Democrats had considered him the party’s leading candidate, but Parkinson said he wants to return to private business.
He said Monday that he won’t reconsider, even if he becomes governor. He said his decision had nothing to do with whether he would win the office in 2010.
Sebelius is serving her second term as governor, and the state constitution prevents her from running again in 2010. Sen. Sam Brownback and Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh are seeking the Republican nomination.
Parkinson once worked as an attorney, but his most recent financial disclosure form, filed with the state in April 2008, shows that he and his wife are half-owners of two Olathe nursing homes and officers of an elder care company, Ad Astra Development, also of Olathe.
“I look forward to returning to the private sector,” Parkinson said. “It’s a decision I didn’t make lightly, and it’s a decision I won’t change.”
Parkinson served two years in the House and four in the Senate as a Republican before deciding in 1996 to leave the Legislature.
He became the Kansas GOP’s chairman in 1999 and served four years in that job — criticizing Sebelius as she ran for her first term as governor in 2002. Four years later, he switched parties to run on her re-election ticket, saying he’d been mistaken about her.
Some Democrats had grumbled about Parkinson’s status as Sebelius’ apparent heir because of his Republican past. Last month, he said he admired people who are willing to spend their entire careers in public service, but added, “I’m not one of them.”
“It really has to do with how I want to spend the rest of my professional career,” Parkinson said Monday. “I’ve never taken the normal path.”
Talk in Washington about Sebelius as a potential appointee has become the hottest issue in the Statehouse, even as legislators deal with the state’s budget problems.
Rep. Bob Grant, a Cherokee Democrat, said he couldn’t resist raising the issue while his legislative pages took a picture Monday with the governor.
“I even asked her, ’When are you going to D.C.?”’ Grant said afterward. “She said, ’See you later.”’
Sebelius was equally coy during the proclamation signings Monday when participants raised the subject. Those signings drew reporters and several television cameras, though news organizations normally skip them.
After signing a proclamation designating February as Black History Month, one participant in a group photo said, “Somebody ask her if she’s hanging around.”
Sebelius laughed and replied: “I’m here, aren’t I?”