Laura Kelly should be the Democrats’ pick for Kansas governor in Tuesday primary

Laura Kelly, Democratic candidate for Kansas governor
Laura Kelly, Democratic candidate for Kansas governor

It’s been years since Kansas Democrats have had enough candidates to even have a battle for their gubernatorial nomination.

But this year, the party is fortunate to have three quality contenders vying for that nomination: Laura Kelly, Josh Svaty and Carl Brewer.

Kelly, though, rises to the top, and Democrats should enthusiastically throw their support to the veteran state senator from Topeka to lead Kansas out of the Sam Brownback years.

Kelly is deceptively tough. She knows the state budget. She is focused on the right priorities for Kansas. And she knows how and when to reach across the aisle to build bipartisan backing for key initiatives.

Kelly, who also happens to have the most high-profile endorsement that any Kansas Democrat can claim via the enthusiastic support she’s received from Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, is precisely the steady hand the state so desperately needs to begin a long rebuilding process.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of state government understands that Kansas faces enormous challenges. The Brownback years, and the disastrous set of tax cuts that he and conservative lawmakers championed, resulted in underfunded schools, a crippled highway program and a child welfare system so underfunded that it threatens the very children it’s supposed to protect. Kelly has plans to tackle all three of those issues.

She understands the daunting challenges ahead. And thanks to her years of experience in state government, she knows how to reposition Kansas for a more prosperous future. For 14 years, Kelly has served on the Senate Budget Committee and has often been in the room when the tough decisions are made on state spending. A four-term senator, she can readily grasp what’s doable and what’s not.

She spent much of her time in office fighting the Brownback tax cuts and advocating for more funding for the state’s beleaguered public schools that have struggled for so many years.

She correctly assesses the Brownback years as a needless war on the state’s poorest citizens. She has pledged to restore balance to the state’s tax system by returning Kansas to its traditional “three-legged stool” approach that relies roughly equally on income, sales and property taxes.

Kelly reserves some of her harshest criticism for KanCare, the state’s privatized health care system for the poor that has failed both patients and providers. Wriggling the state out of multi-year contracts for those services will require time and patience, and Kelly says she’s ready to wage that fight.

She’s also prepared to push forward with way-too-long-delayed Medicaid expansion and finally put a stop to Kansas leaving millions of dollars from the federal government on the table every year.

Kelly’s state Senate district has prepared her well for statewide leadership. The district stretches from inner-city Topeka to the suburbs to the rural countryside in Rossville, Willard and Wamego.

The choice between Kelly and Svaty, a former lawmaker and agriculture secretary, was a difficult one. A compelling and thoughtful candidate, Svaty might have been the choice at a different time in state history, and our hope is that Kansas Democrats will consider him for another important election, such as the state’s next U.S. Senate race in 2020. Carl Brewer is also impressive, but the former two-term Wichita mayor struggled to offer more than a fuzzy prescription for how to advance the state.

Laura Kelly promises a new, clear-eyed beginning for Kansas.