TOPEKA, Kan. ( Associated Press) — Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly spent 18 months with Kansas’ legislative Republican On COVID-19 measures. Early in the pandemic she imposed and then extended a stay-at-home order, issued a brief statewide mask mandate and tried to limit in-person worship services – all during a meeting of growing GOP protests.
Then in November, two days after Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe to reliably become governor of Blue Virginia, Kelly expressed his first opposition to Democratic President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate. A few weeks later, he signed a bill Aimed at helping Kansas activists protest the vaccine mandate, a proposal that was also opposed by the GOP-friendly Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
As Democrats nod their heads, Kelly’s moves signaled his efforts to appeal to moderate Republican and GOP-leaning independent voters who would need him to win a tough reelection race in an overwhelmingly Republican state next year.
Like Democratic governors in Michigan and Wisconsin, Kelly will seek to win a second term against midterm political headwinds flying in favor of Republicans. But she is trying it in a state where former President Donald Trump took twice and where Republicans were active in opposing Biden’s vaccine mandate., is likely to survive a serious primary battle.
His attempt to carve his place in the political center upset some fellow Democrats in the short term. But others argue that the strategy could work for her if it also brings home the message that Kansas now has a stable budget and that its public schools are considered fully funded.
Mike Swenson, who has served as a Democratic strategist and adviser in the Kansas City area for more than four decades, said, “Democrats need to remember that she is doing this so that they can try to win re-election. “
He added: “We can appeal to the moderates – of course.”
Kelly said during the pandemic that she would follow the science in addressing it. But Republican lawmakers used their legislative majority to force them to accept More local control over decisions to require masks and restrict businesses – a move that allowed many communities to reject recommendations from public health officials. He faced criticism for making prison inmates an initial priority. for vaccines.
And so he surprised some Democrats and liberal activists by publicly questioning Biden’s vaccine mandates and quickly signs the Republican bill. The new law provides unemployment benefits if workers lose jobs for being denied shots and allows them to claim religious exemptions, no questions asked.
Furthermore, to some Democrats, she seemed closer to Republican leaders: Several Democratic lawmakers said they learned of her plan to sign the bill from glorified texts from GOP allies.
“It’s a huge, big gamble,” said Christopher Reeves, a Kansas City-area adviser and former Democratic National Committee member.
He signed the measure less than a week after the head of the state’s health department abruptly resigned. Dr. Lee Norman was visible early in the coronavirus pandemic, appearing at news conferences with Kelly, often wearing a white lab coat. Internal emails last summer showed an internal conflict over pandemic messaging, and Norman said recently that Kelly’s administration bailed him out. Because of COVID-19 politics.
Kelly puts herself at the political center on vaccines, in contrast to her strong support for abortion access and LGBTQ rights.
Kelly said during a recent Associated Press interview that her decision is not motivated by “what voters are going to keep in my camp.” She cited major bipartisan legislation on school funding and transportation funding as examples of her approach.
“It’s the only way to rule and rule well,” she said.
Even as Kelly and GOP lawmakers hailed the start of the pandemic, they praised Trump’s response to the outbreak at meatpacking plants that he later said were doing a “great job.” in dealing with the pandemic.
Environmental issues provide another example of attracting Republican-minded voters. His administration opposed the Biden administration’s efforts to preserve the habitat of the lesser prairie chicken, raising concerns that agriculture and energy production would be restricted. Kelly’s administration is also skeptical of Biden’s push to preserve 30% of the country’s land by 2030, which critics call a land grab.
Furthermore, having set up the Racial Justice Commission following the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota last year, it did not intervene this year when its proposals stalled in the Legislature.
And on Wednesday, Kelly offered a one-time $250 discount. Married couples who file jointly with $500, for each Kansas resident who filed a state income tax return last year. The move came after Kelly vetoed three GOP proposals for permanent income tax cuts over three years, calling those measures irresponsible.
“That’s the reality of being the Democratic governor in Kansas,” said Bob Beatty of Washburn University, a Topeka political scientist. “You have to be in the middle and sometimes you have to be in the middle-right.”
While Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Kansas in nearly 90 years, they’ve managed to trade the office of governor with Republicans over the past half century.
Swenson said the formula is “simple”: Increase the vote in the state’s 10 most populous counties and avoid losing the other 95 too much. Kelly essentially followed that path to victory in 2018.
It also helped Kelly in 2018 that her GOP foe was polarizing conservative Trump aide Chris Kobach, whose take-no-prisoners style Separatist liberal voters. Kelly’s potential Republican opponent next year is Derek Schmidt, the state’s three-term attorney general.
Schmidt is running as an anti-abortion, small government attorney general, but in the mold Kansas Republicans such as former US Sen. Pat Roberts and the late bob dole – practically to avoid the separatist moderates.
Kelly hired a reelection campaign manager for 2022, who led the Democrats’ successful attempt to flip the Republican congressional seat in Georgia in 2020. Shelby Dentic was also the deputy campaign manager for US Sen. John Tester in Montana when he narrowly missed Re-elected in 2018.
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