Lieutenant governor not planning big changes as governor

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Posted: Wednesday, March 4, 2009 1:06 am

John Hanna

AP Political Writer

TOPEKA (AP) — Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson isn’t planning any major staff or policy changes once he becomes governor, and he reiterated Tuesday that he does not plan to run for the job in 2010.

He will replace Gov. Kathleen Sebelius when she resigns to become U.S. secretary of health and human services. However, that won’t happen until the U.S. Senate confirms her nomination by President Barack Obama.

Parkinson had his first news conference as Kansas’ governor-in-waiting, and he told reporters during the 10-minute session that he has asked all of Sebelius’ staff and Cabinet to stay on in their current jobs.

“We believe that the transition will be seamless. You will not see the appointment of a huge transition team,” Parkinson said. “Any discussions about future policy changes will come later, but you’re not going to see major changes.”

Leaders of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate said they didn’t expect any major changes in policy because of a change in Democratic governors. However, some legislators consider Parkinson more approachable.

“It’s just a different personality to deal with on issues that we pretty much know where he stands,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a Hutchinson Republican. “I’ve always gotten along with Mark real well.”

Parkinson said he’s ready to serve and deal with the state’s financial problems, because he has been heavily involved in discussions about the budget with Sebelius and her staff. Also, he has been serving as the leader of an advisory group studying how the state can best use federal stimulus dollars.

Parkinson also reiterated an announcement he made in January that he wouldn’t run as a possible successor for Sebelius, who could not seek a third term in 2010 under the state constitution. Some Democrats have wondered whether they might persuade Parkinson to reconsider if he actually held the office.

“I’m not running for office in 2010. When I made the decision that I wasn’t running for office, it had nothing to do with whether or not I thought I could be elected or anything like that,” he said Tuesday. “I’m not a career politician. When 2010 ends, I’ll return to my private life.”

Some Republicans have wondered in recent days how closely Parkinson will stick to Sebelius’ budget proposals. Parkinson is a former Kansas GOP chairman who switched parties to run on Sebelius’ ticket as she sought re-election in 2006.

But Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, said: I wouldn’t expect any dramatic changes in direction. It is the same administration.”

Sebelius has proposed some targeted cuts to help avoid a deficit in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, but she also has proposed using $909 million in federal stimulus funds to keep the budget balanced into 2011. Republican leaders favor far deeper cuts in spending.

“I worked extremely closely with our budget office in going through every single budget, item by item, and working with the governor,” he said. “The priorities that the governor has are my priorities.”

Parkinson also has served as a key adviser to Sebelius on energy issues. Like her, he opposes a plan from Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal-fired power plants in western Kansas.

Sebelius’ administration denied an air-quality permit to the Hays-based utility in October 2007 over the two plants’ potential carbon dioxide emissions, which are linked by many scientists to global warming. Sebelius vetoed three bills last year that would have overturned the permit denial and she has promised to veto a similar one being considered this year.

Asked whether he would veto such a bill, Parkinson said: “I think that my position on the coal plants is probably extremely well known. ... I think people can figure out where I stand.”

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