Laura Kelly takes the oath Monday as the 48th governor of Kansas. She is deserving of congratulations and good wishes as she tackles the challenges ahead.
For now, it’s clear the new Democratic governor will be more focused on specific problems than on a sweeping long-term game plan for the state. During The Star Editorial Board’s recent meeting with her, we asked Kelly to explain her vision for Kansas.
“I would like Kansas be a place that future generations feel comfortable staying here,” she said.
That seems fairly modest, as visions go. It sounds like the new governor will be more pragmatic and transactional than inspirational.
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But OK: Kansans will need to judge the new governor on her specific policy accomplishments, not on soaring rhetoric.
To make that approach work, she will have to deliver real solutions. And to do that, she must work with Republicans in the Legislature.
As her term begins, it isn’t precisely clear where that will be possible. Republicans will focus on tax cuts and the budget, while Kelly wants to use a relatively healthy revenue stream to increase spending for schools, expand Medicaid and protect foster children.
We asked House Speaker Ron Ryckman if there were problems or issues on the GOP’s agenda where the new governor could provide assistance. “I think it would be premature to say where we would come to,” he said, “when we don’t know exactly where she is.”
So the early signs aren’t exactly promising.
Yet Kelly, once a state senator, talked repeatedly during the campaign about her ability to negotiate in good faith with Republicans, who have controlled the Legislature for years. That’s reason for optimism.
It would be wise for both sides to start with consensus issues, such as foster care reform. Republicans and Democrats agree on the need for improvement in how the state treats its most vulnerable children.
Then, lawmakers could tackle election reform, or changes in the criminal justice system, or sports gambling. Cooperation on rural development programs and transportation issues could be next.
Once trust on all sides is established, tough questions on taxes and schools may be easier to address.
Republicans should resist the urge to test Kelly early in the session by passing aggressive legislation she is sure to veto. An extended battle between the two branches will accomplish nothing, except reinforcing Kansans’ cynical views about politics and government.
Voters have given Kansas divided government. But they rejected divisiveness by electing a governor known for quiet competence and negotiating skills, not fact-free bombast.
She will need all of those skills in the days ahead.
Future generations will want to live in Kansas if they’re convinced the government is competent and focused on real problems. Our new governor must reach across the aisle to make sure that happens.