Democratic Kansas Gov. Kelly Begins Second Term; Kobach is AG

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s successful re-election campaign in Republican-leaning Kansas courted centrist voters with ads that showed her standing in the middle of a rural road. She begins her second term facing a skeptical GOP-led Legislature and a new, hard-right attorney general.

Kelly and other state elected officials are scheduled to take the oath of office in a ceremony at noon Monday that will include her inaugural address. She has often used her major public speeches to promote bipartisanship.

The ceremony will also represent a major political comeback for Kris Kobach, the new attorney general. Over two decades, he earned a national reputation by advocating strict immigration and voting laws, but became a lightning rod for controversy. He lost the 2018 governor’s race to Kelly and then a GOP primary for an open U.S. Senate seat in 2020.

Both Kelly’s and Kobach’s victories last year were narrow, as Kansas voters sent decidedly mixed messages. Voters in August decisively rejected a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have allowed lawmakers to ban abortions, but Republicans maintained their supermajorities in both chambers — keeping conservatives in the lead.

The Legislative Assembly is set to convene at 2pm Monday for sessions in the House and Senate with mostly housekeeping and cursing of new members. Kelly is scheduled to outline his legislative agenda in his annual State of the State address Wednesday night.

“I knew from the beginning that if I wanted to achieve anything in public life, I would need to establish relationships across the aisle,” Kelly said in a recent interview. “I will continue to work in a bipartisan way to get things done.”

Kelly’s centrist credibility has rested on a few high-profile moves, such as breaking with President Joe Biden on COVID-19 vaccine mandates in November 2021 and signing a bill to ban “sanctuary” cities for immigrants living in the United States illegally. Last month, she banned the use of TikTok by state workers on state-issued devices, following similar actions by Congress and a number of Republican governors such as South Dakota’s Kristi Noem.

But she has also often clashed with Republican lawmakers on budget issues, tax cuts and education and public health policy. She twice vetoed their proposals to ban transgender athletes from girls and women’s K-12 and college sports. Her proposal to expand state Medicaid coverage for an additional 150,000 people has been a dead letter to top Republicans.

“I never believed she lived in the middle of the road,” state Rep. Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said after fellow Republicans named him the next speaker of the House last month, adding that his chamber, “if anything, is moving a a little further to the right.”

Kobach lost a congressional race in 2004 before winning the first of two terms as Kansas Secretary of State in 2010. He was the first prominent Kansas elected official to endorse Donald Trump’s bid for president in 2016 and served as vice chairman of a short-lived Trump Commission on Voter Fraud.

His unsuccessful runs in 2018 and 2020 crashed his political career and led many Republicans to believe he could not win a statewide race. But many GOP leaders and activists said his 2022 campaign was better organized and more focused, generating less drama or outrage.

The more combative Kobach could return: He has vowed to file a lawsuit to challenge the Biden administration’s policies. He has already been identified as potential targets, a listing of the lesser prairie-chicken as an endangered species and an expansion of waters covered by US Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

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