Kansas Governor Break With Biden Is Last Call To GOP | New policies

By JOHN HANNA, AP political writer

TOPEKA, Kansas (AP) – Democratic Governor Laura Kelly has spent 18 months fighting with Kansas legislative Republicans over COVID-19 measures. At the start of the pandemic, she imposed and then extended a stay-at-home order, issued a brief statewide mask warrant, and tried to limit in-person worship services – all while encountering grunts GOP protest.

Then, in November, two days after Republican Glenn Youngkin reliably defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe to become governor of Blue Virginia, Kelly expressed his first doubts about Democratic President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandates. Weeks later, she signed a bill to help Kansas workers resist vaccination warrants, a proposal even the GOP-friendly Kansas Chamber of Commerce opposed.

As Democrats shook their heads, Kelly’s measures signaled her efforts to appeal to the moderate independent voters, Republicans and GOP supporters she will need to win a tough re-election race in a heavily Republican state next year.

Like the Democratic governors of Michigan and Wisconsin, Kelly will try to win a second term amid the mid-term political headwinds that are blowing in favor of Republicans. But she is trying it in a state former President Donald Trump transported twice and where Republicans, energetic against Biden’s vaccine mandates, appear likely to avoid a serious primary fight.

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His attempt to gain a foothold in the political center angered some Democratic colleagues in the short term. But others argue the tactic could work for her if it also hammers out a message that Kansas now has a stable budget and its public schools are seen as fully funded.

“What Democrats need to remember is that she is doing this to try to get re-elected,” said Mike Swenson, who has worked as a strategist and Democratic consultant in the Kansas City area for more than four decades.

He added, “We can appeal to the moderates – absolutely. “

Kelly has said throughout the pandemic that she will follow science to fix it. But Republican lawmakers have used their legislative qualified majorities to force her to accept more local control over decisions to demand masks and restrict businesses – a move that has allowed many communities to dismiss recommendations from officials. public health. She resisted their criticism for making inmates a priority for vaccines.

And so, she surprised some Democrats and liberal activists by publicly questioning Biden’s vaccine mandates and swiftly signing the Republicans’ bill. The new law provides for unemployment benefits if workers lose their jobs for refusing injections and allows them to claim religious exemptions, no questions asked.

Plus, to some Democrats, she seemed closer to Republican leaders: Several Democratic lawmakers said they learned of her intention to sign the bill thanks to jubilant texts from fellow GOP colleagues.

“It’s a huge, huge bet,” said Christopher Reeves, Kansas City area consultant and former Democratic National Committee member.

She signed the measure less than a week after the brutal resignation of the head of the state’s health department. Dr Lee Norman was visible at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, appearing with Kelly at press conferences, often wearing a white lab coat. Internal emails showed an internal conflict last summer over pandemic messaging, and Norman also recently said Kelly’s administration ousted him due to COVID-19 policy.

Kelly’s position at the political center on vaccines contrasts with his strong support for access to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Kelly said in a recent interview with The Associated Press that her decision making was not driven by “the voters she was going to keep on my side.” She cited major bipartisan laws on school funding and transportation funding as examples of her approach.

“This is the only way to govern and to govern well,” she said.

Even though Kelly and GOP lawmakers fought at the start of the pandemic, she praised Trump’s response to outbreaks at meat packing plants enough that he would later say it was doing a “fantastic job. “in the management of the pandemic.

Environmental issues are another example of appeal to Republican-minded voters. His administration has resisted the Biden administration’s efforts to preserve prairie chicken habitat, raising fears that agriculture and energy production may be limited. Kelly’s administration has also been skeptical of Biden’s pressure to preserve 30% of the country’s land by 2030 in what critics call a land grab.

Additionally, after forming a racial justice commission following the murder of George Floyd in Minnesota last year, she did not intervene this year when her proposals stalled in the legislature.

And on Wednesday, Kelly offered to give a one-time refund of $ 250 to every Kansas resident who filed a state tax return last year, with $ 500 going to married couples who jointly file. The move came after Kelly vetoed three GOP proposals for permanent income tax cuts in three years, calling the measures tax irresponsible.

“It’s just the reality of being a Democratic governor in Kansas,” said Bob Beatty, a political scientist at Washburn University in Topeka. “You have to be in the middle and sometimes you have to be in the middle on the right.”

Although Democrats haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in Kansas for nearly 90 years, they have managed to swap governor’s office with Republicans over the past half century.

Swenson said the formula is “simple”: increase votes in the state’s 10 most populous counties and avoid losing too much of the other 95. Kelly basically followed this path to victory in 2018.

It also helped Kelly in 2018 that his GOP nemesis polarized Trump’s conservative ally, Kris Kobach, whose prisoner-less style alienated moderate voters. Kelly’s expected Republican opponent next year is Derek Schmidt, state attorney general for three terms.

Schmidt presents himself as an anti-abortion attorney general for a small government, but in the mold of Kansas Republicans like former US Senator Pat Roberts and the late Bob Dole – pragmatic enough to avoid alienating the moderates.

Kelly prepared for 2022 by hiring a re-election campaign manager who in 2020 successfully led Democrats’ efforts to overthrow a Republican congressional seat in Georgia. Shelbi Dantic was also deputy campaign manager in Montana for U.S. Senator Jon Tester when he was narrowly re-elected in 2018.

Follow John Hanna on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apjdhanna

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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