Laura Kelly files for governor, talking about education, health care and Kansas economy
photo by: Peter Hancock
Topeka — Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, of Topeka, officially filed in the race for governor Thursday, saying that if elected, her administration will focus on education, health care and reviving the Kansas economy.
Speaking with reporters after she and her lieutenant governor running mate, fellow Sen. Lynn Rogers, of Wichita, paid their filing fee, Kelly said education is the No. 1 issue that she hears voters talking about this year.
“And that ranges, really, from early childhood through our higher education system,” she said.
“They’re very well aware of what’s happened over time, and they’re concerned about the lack of access to early-childhood education,” she said. “They’re concerned about the shortage of funding in K-12 and what that’s done to the system in terms of shorter years, larger classrooms, all of those things. … And then higher education, I think the biggest issue with that is tuition and the fact that there’s a direct correlation between the cuts that we have made to higher education and the skyrocketing tuition costs.”
Kelly also said she hears more people talking about expanding the state’s Medicaid system under the Affordable Care Act than ever before.
“There is a big desire on the part of folks to get that done,” she said. “And it’s not just to cover the 150,000 people we know don’t have access to health care right now. But it’s also because they understand the economic impact of not having done that.”
Kelly was first elected to the Senate in 2004 and has served three and a half terms. She is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Public Health and Welfare Committee. She also serves as assistant minority leader in the Senate.
Rogers is serving his first term in the Senate. Elected in 2016, he took over a seat formerly held by a Republican, Michael O’Donnell. He is also a former member of the Wichita school board.
Kelly first announced her plans to run and formed a campaign committee Dec. 15, months after three other candidates had jumped in.
But in the last two weeks of the year, she raised over $155,000, more than some of the other candidates, in part with the help of former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
That has led some Republicans to remark that electing Kelly would be akin to giving Sebelius a third term, but Kelly rejected the comparison.
“I have 14 years of my very own record, and we will make sure that gets out there,” Kelly said. “I appreciate that Kathleen has endorsed me and that she supports my campaign. But she does that recognizing that I am my own person and that I have done a lot of things that were not in line with the kinds of things Kathleen wanted to do.”
In 2014, former Rep. Paul Davis, of Lawrence, was the Democratic nominee, and he too ran a campaign that focused largely on education and health care. Davis, however, lost that election to Republican incumbent Sam Brownback by 32,000 votes.
Kelly, however, said the political landscape in Kansas in 2018 is very different.
“You’ve got to think back at the 2016 election,” she said, referring to the victories in legislative races by Democrats and moderate Republicans that changed the balance of power in the Statehouse. “When I look at the folks who came into the Senate and into the House, almost all of them were running on education, and they got in. So that is very much on the minds of a lot of Kansans, not just Democrats.”
Kelly also said she intends to focus on improving the Kansas economy, and suggested she would try to re-establish something like the Kansas Bioscience Authority, a quasi-public agency that made direct investments in emerging bioscience companies.
The state liquidated its holdings in that entity in 2016, in part to raise money to help close the state’s budget deficit that year. But Kelly said it was because of that agency that Kansas was able to land the National Agro- and Bio-Defence Facility, or NBAF, in Manhattan, which she said has been an economic boon to that area’s economy.
“The thing that was really creative about the bioscience industry, that was an industry that we were nowhere on. We were off the radar,” she said. “And within just a few years, we were the fifth fastest-growing state in the bioscience industry.”
“And we did it smart,” she continued. “We didn’t go after the human medical stuff. We went after plant and animal, which was a unique niche for us, and it set up that corridor from Manhattan to Columbia (Mo.), and it truly worked, not only in bringing NBAF here, but a number of different synergistic companies and startups that are going to flourish off the development of that.”
Kelly faces two major competitors in the Aug. 7 Democratic primary: former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; and former Rep. and former state Agriculture Secretary Joshua Svaty, of Ellsworth.
House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita, also had announced plans to run, but he recently dropped out of the race and filed for re-election to his House seat.