One month after inauguration, Gov. Kelly discusses term ahead

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly
Posted at 5:56 PM, Feb 14, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-15 21:02:54-05

TOPEKA, Kan. — With Thursday marking one month since her inauguration, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly spoke with 41 Action News in an exclusive interview about the top issues facing her administration and her initiatives moving forward, including school funding, Medicaid expansion and a balanced budget.

After defeating former Secretary of State Kris Kobach in the gubernatorial election last year, Kelly faces a future of working with both a Republican-controlled House and Senate. She said she expected her 14-year Senate career to come in handy.

“I think I was known as a no-nonsense person who could work with anybody in order to get things done,” she said in an interview this week. “I think that 14 years of experience and knowledge is serving me very well because there’s nothing new under the sun here. When things come up, I sort of already get it. I know a lot.”

LISTEN: 41 Files Kansas City Podcast talks one-on-one interview with Gov. Laura Kelly

Kelly said her time on the budget committee as a senator was especially important in preparing her to be governor.

“There’s no better place to learn about the state than sitting on the budget committee,” she said. “The fact I spent 14 years digging deep into that really gave me a leg up on knowing what the issues are.”

Since taking took office, Kelly has already brought change to the state.

On her first day in charge, the governor reinstated protections for LGBTQ state employees that were erased under former Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

“It was a promise I made during the campaign that I would do that,” she said. “As a boss, I don’t believe in discrimination of any sort. I want to hire people and work with people because of their skill set and knowledge and what they bring to the table. Nothing else needs to be considered.”

With the signing coming early in her term, Kelly said the decision helped send a statement about her administration.

“To the state employees, I think it sent a message that I will be a fair and considerate employer,” she said. “It sent to the rest of the country that Kansas is back. We’re a progressive and open state and a good place to work.”

Since then, Kelly has focused on key issues facing the state.

After years of controversy, the governor hopes to finally put an end to a battle over school funding in Kansas.

State conservatives continue to fight with the Kansas Supreme Court over what amount of funding equates to a fair and equitable amount.

With her budget calling for a $92 million boost to the funding increase passed last year by the state, Kelly said her proposal could help bring a solution to the case.

“Public education is probably the most important thing that we as a state do,” she said. “We need to get out of court. We’ve spent far too much time there. We need to adequately fund our schools in an equitable fashion.”

The battle of school funding serves as a reminder of the legacy of the Brownback tax cuts still impacting the state.

When asked about the fallout, Kelly let her feelings be known.

“They were a complete and total disaster and I think we’ve seen it all across the state,” she told 41 Action News. “Everywhere, our agencies have been decimated and unable to provide the services they normally should be able to provide.”

One month into her term, Kelly said getting a budget passed stands out as the top issue in the state.

With Kansas still dealing with challenges, Kelly said she hoped to help the state continue to navigate past the tax cuts.

“I presented a structurally balanced budget, which means that we are taking in more revenue than we’re spending. We also left the largest ending balance in 20 years,” the governor said. “I don’t like to spend money I don’t have and I like to have a rainy day fund.”

Looking forward into her term, Kelly told 41 Action News that she also hoped to address Medicaid expansion.

The issue served as a cornerstone of her gubernatorial campaign, and Kelly said it presented a special opportunity for Kansas.

“We’re in a situation now where we have left over $3 billion back in Washington, D.C.,” she said. “Those are Kansas taxpayer dollars.”

According to Kelly, expanding Medicaid could lead to 150,000 more Kansans being covered with health insurance.

She also said that expansion could bring more jobs and savings to the state while also helping rural hospitals during a difficult time.

“We have a number of hospitals that have already closed,” she said. “We’ve got close to 30 of them on the brink of it if we don’t do something.”

The governor also addressed other key issues, including medical marijuana.

While official legislation continues to work its way through the political process, Kelly said she hoped to see a bill come to her desk.

“I think it’s an important tool for people with chronic pain and for children with severe epilepsy,” she said. “There are a number of good uses for it, and I think the medical community has started to come along and believe that to be the case.”

With a full plate of matters to address, Kelly said that she's ready to get to work. When asked about her attitude toward the job, she spoke about the impact of growing up in a military family.

“The constant moving and starting new schools, I just had to become very adaptable,” she said. “There’s not as much pressure as you might think. I’ve got a lot of work to do but I knew that before I got into this position. There’s more pressure when you don’t have the ability to make changes.”

With one month down and the rest of her term ahead, Kelly hopes she can bring progress to Kansas.

“I think I’m a lot like a lot of Kansans,” she said. “Very pragmatic and no-nonsense. Let’s just get our job done.”