TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) — Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly is back for another four years and ready to tackle a long list of issues, including marijuana reform and Medicaid expansion. But, there could be roadblocks ahead, as Kelly faces a Republican supermajority in both the House and Senate.
However, the governor said she’s not slowing down on her agenda.
“We had record-setting economic development in my first term. I think we’re up to $15 billion of new capital investment,” Kelly said. “I have no intention of slowing down just because I’m in my second term.”
She said the $15 billion has resulted in more than 53,000 jobs created or retained.
In her first sit-down television interview since her re-election, Kelly spoke with Kansas Capitol Bureau about working with GOP leadership next year and the latest challenge from Republicans.
Kelly has held onto her “middle of the road” stance. However, this year the governor may be asked to choose a side on certain issues.
New Republican Speaker-elect Dan Hawkins said he’s expecting lawmakers to be more conservative. However, House Minority Leader-elect Vic Miller said he’s hoping to get the governor to move a “little to the left” on certain issues like marijuana.
Kansas Capitol Bureau asked the governor whether she would stand with her party on some issues and move a step to the left.
“I will never do the ‘stand with my party’ … that is a horrible way to make policy and laws for the state of Kansas,” Kelly said. “I have worked with both of the leaders … Senator Masterson in the Senate and Representative Hawkins … the Speaker now, in the House … and I have a good working relationship with both of them.”
Some Republicans, however, are already questioning Kelly’s leadership.
Republican Senator J.R. Claeys’ plan is set to place the authority of the Kansas Highway Patrol (KHP) leadership under Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach instead of the governor. The state lawmaker said the change is vital in pivoting the direction of the agency.
Former troopers have been adding fuel to the ongoing controversy surrounding the agency, blaming KHP Superintendent Colonel Herman Jones for wrongful terminations. Sexual assault allegations were also brought up against Jones in 2020. He was cleared after an investigation.
“I take allegations of sexual harassment or discrimination very seriously, and we have done two independent investigations into this particular case, and there were no findings whatsoever of any harassment or discrimination, so let’s just put that one to rest,” Kelly said.
The governor also indicated that there could be a conflict of interest in giving the attorney general’s office control of KHP. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation, which investigates law enforcement, falls under the same umbrella.
“Kansans need to remember that the Kansas Bureau of Investigation is also under the attorney general’s office, so moving the Kansas Highway Patrol next door to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation makes about as much sense as moving the Office of the Child Advocate into the Department of Children and Families.”
Despite pushback, Kelly plans to stay focused on “getting things done” next year.
That includes pushing her tax cut plan, which promises to immediately eliminate the state’s food sales tax and provide more tax relief for Kansans.
“Trust that I have run the numbers every way from Sunday to ensure that the proposals that we have put out there to ‘Axe the Food Sales Tax’ immediately … to up the threshold on the social security income that is not taxed from $75,000 to $100,000 … and then, to provide a school supply tax holiday for families … are all doable and sustainable over time,” Kelly said.