Former Obama administration Cabinet secretary and Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius on Monday endorsed the Democratic campaign of state legislator Barbara Bollier for U.S. Senate.
The endorsement drew a strong reaction from a Wichita candidate for the GOP nomination.
Sebelius, who played a supporting role in the 2018 campaigns of Gov. Laura Kelly and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, said Bollier's voice was needed in Washington, D.C. She joined Usha Reddi, of Manhattan, in the Democratic field for the seat to be vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Republican.
"Our politics have become too partisan and lack the values and common sense so critical to progress. Barbara will be a breath of fresh air in the U.S. Senate," Sebelius said.
Sebelius was a two-term governor who resigned to serve as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from 2009 to 2014. She was at HHS during introduction of the Affordable Care Act under President Barack Obama.
Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican seeking the GOP nomination for U.S. Senate, said she wasn't surprised that a "left-wing Democrat" such as Sebelius was aligned with Bollier, a former Republican who shifted her party affiliation in 2018. Wagle described Bollier as a "liberal woman disguised as a moderate."
"Sebelius led Barack Obama's efforts to take over the health care sector and Barbara Bollier opposed my efforts to help Kansas farmers bypass the costly Obamacare exchanges, saving Kansas farmers 30% to 50% on average," Wagle said. "Sebelius and Bollier are two peas in a pod, and they are costing hardworking Kansas families thousands."
Other Republicans campaigning to replace Roberts include former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, former NFL player Dave Lindstrom, U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, of the 1st District, and commentator Bryan Pruitt.
State Rep. Kyle Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican, said Sebelius retained name recognition in Kansas that was helpful to election of Kelly, but he was skeptical the same approach would move voters for Bollier.
"There is no doubt she helped Laura Kelly tremendously in the governor's race," Hoffman said. "I am not sure that correlates to a Senate race."
A Sebelius endorsement carries weight among Democrats and moderate Republicans who would be more politically aligned with Bollier, said state Rep. Annie Kuether, D-Topeka.
"It brings her supporters to get behind the candidate. I think that's good for her," said Kuether, who also endorsed Bollier.
Sebelius said she was backing Bollier for her work in the Legislature to help repeal a controversial 2012 tax law that eliminated the state income tax for about 330,000 businesses and aggressively lowered state income taxes on individuals. The result was an unexpectedly deep reduction in state revenue that triggered budget cuts and increases in the state's sales and income taxes.
Bollier voted in the Legislature on behalf of bills expanding state aid to public schools and advocated for expansion of Medicaid under the ACA.
"Her expertise as a physician is desperately needed as we work to make health care more affordable and accessible for all Americans," Sebelius said.
On Monday, the former executive director of the Kansas Democratic Party said he would launch a campaign for the Kansas Senate seat in Johnson County to be vacated by Bollier.
Ethan Corson, an attorney who served in the U.S. Department of Commerce in the Obama administration, left the state party job in August following the cycle that included election of Democrats Davids and Kelly.
"I will work tirelessly to make sure every child in Kansas can attend a world-class public school and every Kansan has access to quality, affordable health care," Corson said.
He said he would strive to amend the state's anti-discrimination law to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. He also would seek enactment of "responsible, fair and sustainable tax policies."