If a Democrat is to govern well as the state’s top executive, he or she must be able to collaborate with Republican lawmakers who heavily outnumber Democrats. It requires a leader with heavy legislative experience and ideas that work well on both sides of the aisle. Sen. Laura Kelly is the best person among Democratic candidates to make that happen, earning our narrow endorsement.
Kelly, 68, has served 14 years as a state senator from the Topeka area. She is one of the most respected Democrats in the statehouse because of an approach that doesn’t garner her headlines, yet effectively brings results. Outnumbered 3-1 by the GOP senators in her terms, she learned quickly to work with moderate Republicans for change.
She has been termed a Topeka insider because of her senate experience, but we think that makes her the most effective Democratic candidate. She has knowledge of Kansas’ problems and offers solutions, most notably on topics such as education, children and mental health.
In the midst of turmoil within the Kansas Department for Children and Families, Kelly has been one of the agency’s sharpest critics. Kelly said DCF’s troubles constitute an emergency that requires more social workers and resources to help the agency sufficiently help Kansas children.
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Early childhood education is a high priority for Kelly, wanting Kansas preschool-age kids to be ready to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. Kelly’s penchant for education is welcome given the decimation of public education funding during the Sam Brownback administration.
Kelly’s choice of Wichita Sen. Lynn Rogers as her running mate is another indicator that education is at the top of her priorities. Rogers served 16 years on the Wichita school board, championing public education and the successes it can bring all students regardless of societal factors.
Kansans went through extreme times during Brownback’s seven years as governor. A Democratic option such as Kelly brings an experienced, common-sense lawmaker who can confidently step into the office and begin leading.
Joshua Svaty would be another good choice. At 38, Svaty represents the newest generation of Kansas politician and would be the state’s youngest governor since Fred Hall in 1955. But young doesn’t mean inexperienced, as Svaty was elected to the Kansas House four times (the first time at 23) and served as Agriculture secretary under Gov. Mark Parkinson.
Svaty emphasizes a forward-thinking, statewide campaign with issues important to urban and rural Kansans alike — future water needs, mineral resources, manufacturing. He recognizes the state’s sales tax on food adversely affects low-income families and vows to reduce or eliminate it.
But Svaty holds the biggest policy difference from his primary rivals — he is anti-abortion. He has said he would initiate no new abortion laws and veto legislation that would make Kansas abortion laws more restrictive. There’s a theory that an anti-abortion Democrat would have a better chance in a general election, but Democrats who likely lean pro-choice as a group should have a pro-choice nominee in a general election.
Carl Brewer, Wichita’s mayor from 2007 to 2015, does not have the statehouse experience of Kelly and Svaty, though polling has shown he has favorable name recognition in many parts of Kansas. He believes being elected mayor twice in Kansas’ largest (and somewhat conservative) city helps his chances in the Democratic primary.
A former community activist who became a City Council member and eventually a two-term mayor, Brewer was in charge as Wichita, a city with a $600 million budget, set off on major projects such as a new airport and the latest phase of Kellogg expansion. He was a champion for the city and its downtown revitalization, and would bring the same energy to Topeka.
But Brewer, 61, faces long odds. No Kansan has been elected governor with mayor as his highest previous office since Arkansas City’s Robert Docking in 1966 — and Docking’s father, George, was governor four years earlier.
Arden Andersen, 60, is likely behind the three experienced politicians, but brings unique perspective to the race as a doctor (whose practice in Lansing includes prison guards) and farmer. He has strong, first-hand views on prisons, health care, Medicaid expansion and farming.
Also running is Wichita high school student Jack Bergeson.
The winner will face the Republican nominee in the Nov. 6 general election.