If conservative firebrand Kris Kobach would continue Kansas on its path to the right, Democrat Laura Kelly would be its pivot back to center.
After a weak start early in the campaign, polls suggest Kelly is now virtually tied with her Republican opponent in the heated race for Kansas governor.
The longtime state senator sees herself as a consensus builder, a pragmatist who at various times in the Statehouse has voted against tax cuts — and for them.
She supports abortion rights and Medicaid expansion, and she wants to roll back a law that lets people carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
Kelly also supported a bill allowing Kansans to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Along with almost every other member of the Legislature, Kelly voted for the law Kris Kobach pushed to require proof of citizenship to register, and photo ID, to vote — a move she now says was a mistake.
But Kelly rejects being called a “liberal.”
“I don’t think that it is fair to put that kind of label or any kind of label on me,” she says. “I’m really just a sort of no-nonsense, very pragmatic problem solver. I deal ... issue by issue, and I don’t have, I really don’t have an ideological bone in my body.”
Kelly’s have-it-both-ways position on guns gave her a bit of trouble during the primaries, but in the general election, that middle-of-the-roadness could be part of the winning formula. She’s received endorsements from former Democrat Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, and former Republican Gov. Bill Graves.
She’ll need that crossover support, and lots of it: Democrats are still outnumbered by both Republican and unaffiliated voters in Kansas. So Kelly is relying on not just on her party, but also on moderate Republicans to push her ahead of her conservative opponent. That assumes independent Greg Orman doesn’t take too many of the across-the-aisle votes she’s counting on.
Among those heard in this episode:
Laura Kelly, state senator and Democratic candidate for governor, @senatorkelly
Kathleen Sebelius, former Democratic Kansas governor, @sebelius
Bill Graves, former Republican Kansas governor
My Fellow Kansans is a production of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR in Kansas City, KMUW in Wichita, Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, and High Plains Public Radio in Garden City.
The podcast is written and reported by Jim McLean, edited by Amy Jeffries, and mixed by Matthew Long-Middleton.
The production team includes Beth Golay, Nadya Faulx, Scott Canon, and Grace Lotz. Primary Color Music composed our theme.
Kansas News Service reporters Stephan Bisaha, Madeline Fox, Nomin Ujiyediin, and Celia Llopis-Jepsen contributed a little something to this episode.
Special thanks to Neal Carruth of NPR and the NPR Training team.