Local legislators supportive

of Sebelius’ nomination,

Parkinson’s takeover

as Kansas gov.

Melissa Smith

Assistant Managing Editor

TOPEKA (AP) — Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ nomination for a Cabinet job in Washington comes even as work on the next Kansas budget remains unfinished.

And Kansas legislators disagree about how her departure for a job as U.S. secretary of health and human services will affect their work.

They’re not even sure of the timing of her departure. President Barack Obama announced Sebelius as his choice for secretary of health and human services Monday. She still must be confirmed by the Senate.

Her departure will elevate Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson to governor.

Many legislators consider Parkinson more approachable than Sebelius. One of them is House Appropriations Chairman Kevin Yoder, an Overland Park Republican.

But Senate Majority Leader Derek Schmidt, an Independence Republican, said Sebelius’ decision to leave creates a disruption.

Rep. Jerry Williams, D-Chanute, said he would not be surprised if Sebelius was still governor when the Appropriations Committee goes to the House Floor March 25, 26 and 27.

“She won’t resign until confirmation, if that occurs,” Williams said. “Parkinson will be filling in as we do the veto session. The first go-round, the first adjournment, leading up to April 1, I think still probably Gov. Sebelius will still be here. I just can’t see confirmation happening real quick. When we get back into this place when we try to pass the 2010 budget, that’s when we’ll have a new governor and he’ll get baptized real quick, I think.”

Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he believes that the weight of the budget will be on the shoulders of the current lieutenant governor but the real issue will be the “working relationship between the new governor and how that may have differed with Gov. Sebelius.”

“I don’t mean that being negative to Gov. Sebelius, but obviously there’s been some bad blood between the governor and my Republican leadership. Not only the budget, but we’ve had a continuing contentious fight over fossil fuels and climate change and the coal fire plants. Mark Parkinson as lieutenant governor really carried the water for the governor on that issue. I doubt that environment will change much as it relates to that kind of debate on meeting energy needs.”

Overall, though, Umbarger believes Parkinson to be prepared to fill Sebelius’ shoes as governor.

“He’s been successful as a businessman. He’s gone through the political process, serving in the Kansas Senate and during his time I think he played a major role in drafting the death penalty statute which we’re in the midst of revisiting. … Mark’s got a lot of capability and he’s going to be very professional and very business-like.”

Williams said the House Appropriations Committee will have a briefing with Sebelius today to see her budget amendment which will infuse Kansas’ portion of the $787 billion stimulus money, though on Monday evening he did not know exactly how much money Kansas would receive from the federal government.

If Sebelius is confirmed by the U.S. Senate and Parkinson becomes governor, he will have the job of appointing a lieutenant governor to take his place.

Williams said Sebelius’ background in the insurance industry will serve her well as she tries to sort through the problems Americans face with the health care industry.

“I think with her background, she’s passionate on health care and she’s also had the experience with the private sector with the insurance industry. Health care in America surely needs a heavy dose of reform. That’s what the Obama administration has promised is some kind of universal health care,” he said. “I think it’s a big job. … It’s something that needs to be overhauled. Of course, she needs to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate before she gets the job. She’s served two terms as insurance commissioner and six years as governor and state legislator. She has a lot of experience in pulling the pieces together of what’s going to have to be pulled together.”

Umbarger said he is excited for Sebelius and for the state of Kansas because of the sitting governor’s nomination by Obama.

“I am excited for the governor and I’m excited for the state of Kansas because having somebody from our state going into this position at the federal level. I may not agree with her on all the issues but she’s a hard worker and she studies the issues. I’ll do whatever I can to support her and make it a positive process. I think it’s a positive move for the governor and the state. We’ve got a guy coming up (Parkinson) who’s got the capability of filling those shoes. I think it’s a good deal for the state of Kansas,” Umbarger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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