I have been watching the news reports about the appointment of Kathleen Sebelius to the position of Secretary of Health and Human Services. There was a time when she was considered a possible candidate for the job of Vice-President and there is no reason why those who write the news for television should not have done their homework on her qualifications. However, after the announcement was made of her new appointment, they treated her like a total unknown and spoke briefly about her eight-year career as Kansas Insurance Commissioner before she won the governorship of our "red state" not once, but twice.
Kathleen (the name by which Kansans speak of her with varying degrees of reverence, depending on our political leanings), literally imbibed politics with her Pablum since her father, John Gilligan, was Governor of the State of Ohio, and the father of her husband, Gary, was once US Representative from the State of Kansas. She is an accomplished politician and earned honors from both sides of the aisle in establishing many programs in Kansas that are of benefit to the poor and, particularly, to children. The MSNBC newscast early in the day could only refer to her one big defeat as Governor in failing to get full-coverage health care for all children in the State. They did not mention the Kansas Health Wave program which allows working parents of young children to "buy in" to a program similar to Medicaid and provides a means for working, low-income women to provide affordable medical care for their children rather than giving up their jobs and living on welfare.
She also bore ultimate responsibility for the administration of the Federally-funded programs for the poor as well as the Home and Community-Based Services, which saved the State a lot of money by allowing handicapped and retarded people to live in their own homes in the community rather than in nursing homes or the horrendous State institutions. As the parent of a severely handicapped daughter, it was a godsend to have her near home for her remaining years and I will be eternally grateful..
As State Insurance Commissioner Kathleen blocked the takeover of the customer-owned Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Kansas by a national corporation, thus saving the people in the State from the great premium increases that would have been inevitable under the new ownership. She kept honest those insurance companies who did operate in Kansas by strict oversight and enforcement of their policy provisions. Most important, she knows the insurance business thoroughly and will surely hold their feet the fire once the new medical-care plan is ready for implementation.
Kathleen is a sweet, compassionate person and, rather than boasting of her performance, she often appeared apologetic that she could not accomplish even more for the people of her State. She is a good Catholic who ran afoul of the Church for her opposition to measures that would have abolished abortion because she felt that it is a religious matter in which the State has no right to intrude. How sad that such good people are having to choose between Church and State for having stood up for their Constitutional separation!
It is with a great deal of trepidation that Kansas surrenders this great leader to the rest of the nation. There is no really ready replacement among the Democratic leadership of the State but perhaps there will be by the next election in 2010. Do not worry about her ability to cope with Congressional opposition in her new job. She has had six years of experience with a solid Republican Legislature and she drove them like a 20-mule team with a soft voice and a long whip, accomplishing more in the area of social services than any Governor in the last 30 years.
Go with our love, Kathleen! And in the words of the late, great Tip O'Neill, "Never forget where you came from and who sent you here." In addition, if they don't treat you right, come on back home! We love you.