Parkinson now governor; Sebelius goes to HHS
Topeka — Shortly after becoming Kansas’ 45th governor, Mark Parkinson on Tuesday faced the political leadership of the state and expressed confidence that “we will make it through these difficult times.”
Parkinson, 51, was sworn in after Gov. Kathleen Sebelius resigned to become secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.
In remarks after he took the oath of office from Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Davis, Parkinson said he looked forward to crafting a budget solution based on a “shared sacrifice approach.”
The brief ceremony capped an extraordinary day in Kansas politics in which Sebelius left to lead the fight against an outbreak of swine flu and help Obama overhaul the nation’s health care system, while Parkinson stepped up to deal with a state in an economic tailspin and a $328 million budget deficit as the Legislature was prepared to start its wrap-up session Wednesday.
At a quickly arranged ceremony area on the second floor of the Capitol, Parkinson spoke for about eight minutes to about 200 legislators, lobbyists and other political officials. He called for a shared sacrifice approach of modest budget cuts and delays in the phase-out of tax cuts that had been approved in earlier years.
Parkinson, who must also select a new lieutenant governor, didn’t talk to the media after his remarks and went back into his new office.
Praise from lawmakers
Legislative leaders from both sides praised Parkinson, who has served in the House and Senate and was Kansas Republican Party chairman before he switched to the Democratic Party in 2006 to run with Sebelius as lieutenant governor.
Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, R-Independence, said, “I’m looking forward to being actively engaged with the governor and leaders of both parties to try to fashion a way out of this.”
Schmidt said having the status of Sebelius and Parkinson settled would make it easier for legislators to deal with the budget deficit and other issues in the wrap-up session. And, he added, if any Republicans held a grudge against Parkinson because he left the GOP to become a Democrat, they needed to get over it. “That’s history. We need to move ahead,” he said.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he expected Parkinson “to hit the ground running.”
Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden, a former governor, said Parkinson’s experience in both chambers and both parties gave him a unique perspective that he can carry into the office. “He can reach across a wide spectrum,” he said.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, predicted a seamless transition from Sebelius. “From the beginning, Mark Parkinson has been extremely involved in the administration, more than any lieutenant governor in recent memory. This, combined with the fact that he is simply a good leader and a former legislator himself, should ease any concerns about the transition,” Davis said.
Parkinson agreed with Sebelius on most issues, including opposition to the proposed two 700-megawatt coal-burning power plants in southwest Kansas. Supporters of the project are expected to try to overturn the veto during the wrap-up session.
The flurry of the transition started around 5 p.m. Tuesday after the U.S. Senate confirmed Sebelius on a 65-31 vote. She had submitted a resignation letter effective upon the confirmation, which made Parkinson governor. He went through a swearing-in ceremony two hours later.
During the past year, much of the Kansas political world had been on Sebelius watch. For months, she was touted as a possible vice presidential nominee.
When Obama picked Joe Biden as his running mate and won the November election, talk turned to what job Sebelius would fill in the Obama administration.
But nothing substantial turned up until it was disclosed that Obama’s first choice for health and human services secretary, Tom Daschle, failed to pay $140,000 in taxes, and he withdrew himself from consideration.
In March, Obama picked Sebelius, the daughter of a former governor of Ohio who married into a famous Kansas political family. She started her political career in Kansas as a state legislator from Topeka, then won statewide election twice as insurance commissioner before running for governor in 2002.
Although a Democrat in a predominantly Republican state, she was often seen as a reformer who could work with members of both parties. Now, it’s Parkinson’s turn. He has asked to address a joint session of the Legislature and has already announced that he doesn’t plan to run for governor in 2010.
Schmidt said that decision may allow Parkinson to act with more political freedom.
“Governor Parkinson is going to be in office for a short time. It is time when the state is not flush with cash,” Schmidt said. “He will not have the opportunity to leave a legacy by creating new programs or new initiatives. But he does have an extraordinary opportunity to leave a legacy of putting this state back on a sound and sustainable financial footing.”