Election-Year Governing

OK, we saw the first year of Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration, and it was…well…businesslike, if not thrilling.

She’s got almost all of her Cabinet confirmed and made scores of appointments to various state agencies, boards and commissions that most of us never heard of.

Us Statehouse hangers-on are waiting with whatever is one less than baited-breath for her Jan. 15 State of the State Address where she tells the Legislature just what she wants to get done in her second year of office, the year that will bear her stamp—unlike last year’s warm-up stretching.

This year’s legislative session is going to be about the Legislature, or, more precisely, legislators getting re-elected, and challengers to those incumbents finding an issue or two that they can tout as reasons to send the incumbents back home.

Oh, that “good of the people” and “representing my constituents” and those catch-phrases are of course going to be at the top of those campaign brochures but it’s all about getting re-elected. We all know that.

Kelly’s role? Primarily to run the state in a businesslike manner and make her key issues attractive for Democrats and moderate Republicans who might just vote across the party line and remake the governance of the state.

Which comes down to issues that Kansans care about. That’s the real key.

Is it taxes? Nobody likes them, but everyone wants better roads, better schools, health care for the poor, either because it is a moral obligation or to make those poor people less of an inconvenience for those who aren’t. Tough, but that’s some of what taxes pay for. 

Ever notice that candidates who just want to concentrate on cutting taxes—again, that’s always good—rarely have a bullet point on their campaign literature that says just what services or programs they will do away with if taxes are reduced? Just wondering…

The major fights this session are already pretty well defined:


Count on expanding Medicaid (or KanCare as we’ve labeled it here in our state): The governor’s for it, the conservatives in the Legislature generally oppose it unless it provides some benefit for the voters who have never had to ask a health-care provider if they can make payments instead of just sending the bill to their insurance company. The conservatives believe people should work somewhere to get that health care and aren’t convinced that the 90 percent federal/10 percent state financing of the program is a good deal. 


Last month, the so-called “red flag” issue popped up. That’s convincing a judge to order law enforcement officers to seize the guns of people whose spouses, or others in a relationship with a gun owner, fear represent a danger to them or others. There’s a little-used provision in state law now that allows that judge-approved order to go the police, but already gun fanciers are locked and loaded to make sure that the seizures don’t happen. The governor supports “red flag,” conservative – at this point mostly male – lawmakers are against it.


The Kansas Supreme Court? Issue there goes a couple ways, legislators, mostly the Senate, want to confirm gubernatorial appointments to the state’s highest court, the governor doesn’t. She’ll have made two appointments to the court before lawmakers, if they can gin up a constitutional amendment and get it passed by voters this fall, learn whether they will get to OK future appointments.

A second court issue is whether the Legislature has unlawfully not fully-funded the constitutionally independent branch of government.


Those issues, and probably a few others, may tell us who comes back to the Legislature in 2021…to hear Kelly’s third State of the State address.

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