Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly named former Republican Rep. Melissa Rooker on Thursday to help lead one of her signature initiatives.
Kelly chose Rooker to head the Kansas Children’s Cabinet, a 15-member group created in the late 1990s to guide state investments in early childhood programs.
Rooker, a moderate Republican, represented a Johnson County district in the Kansas House for six years before narrowly losing last year to Democrat Rui Xu. While in the Legislature, Rooker played a leadership role on education issues.
“I worked closely with Rep. Rooker for many years and know her to be a steadfast advocate for Kansas children and families,” Kelly said in a statement.
Kelly has said that expanding and improving programs that help prepare children to succeed is one of her top priorities as governor.
As the paid executive director of the Children’s Cabinet, Rooker will play a key role in helping the governor implement her vision.
“I have always focused my policy work on children’s issues,” she said. “So, for me … this could not be a more perfect fit.”
The cabinet advises the governor and Legislature on how to spend approximately $50 million in annual dedicated funding for early childhood programs. It also works with researchers at the University of Kansas to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs it funds.
Kelly also appointed Kim Moore to chair the Cabinet and the Children’s Trust Fund. Moore retired last year after 30 years as president of the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund.
“I’ve seen first-hand the positive impact that high-quality early intervention and support can have on children and families across the state of Kansas,” Moore said. “I look forward to (making) sure all children in Kansas are safe, healthy and have the opportunity to succeed.”
In a related development, Senate President Susan Wagle on Wednesday reinstated Sen. Dinah Sykes to the cabinet after removing her in December for switching parties.
Sykes, a former moderate Republican who became a Democrat just before the start of the 2019 legislative session, had challenged her removal from the cabinet. She argued that Wagle didn’t have the authority to replace her before the end of her term.
Research done by legislative staff proved her correct.
Skyes said she’s excited to again be working with Rooker.
“Her passion is Kansas kids and I think she’ll do an incredible job,” Sykes said.
Rooker succeeds Janice Suzanne Smith, who resigned in December.
Jim McLean is the senior correspondent for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach him on Twitter @jmcleanks.
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