How's Laura Kelly doing as governor, 100 days in?

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Gov. Laura Kelly delivers State of the State speech in Topeka (1.16.2019) Gov. Laura Kelly delivers State of the State speech in Topeka (1.16.2019)
Governor Laura Kelly speaking with Judge Jeffry Jack. (Photo by Stephen Koranda) Governor Laura Kelly speaking with Judge Jeffry Jack. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Tuesday, Governor Laura Kelly reaches the 100 day milestone of her time in office.  That's the point where political analysts generally judge how a politician is doing.  So, what's changed?  Has the state improved?

Opinions of the governor's performance varied among Kansas voters, often based on political party but not always.  While political analysts pretty much agreed, by their measure, she's doing a good job.

"I think she came in with an agenda and it's difficult for her agenda to get going because of the House control and the Senate control," Marc Knowles said.  "I don't know, it'd be hard to grade her."

Democrat Laura Kelly became Kansas' governor on January 14th, propelled into office by a plurality, not a majority, of Kansas voters and facing a Republican majority in the Kansas legislature.

"Good, bad or indifferent, she's got more of the speed bumps," Knowles said.

Despite those speed bumps, the governor has quietly pushed several of her priorities into place.  With the help of her Democrat and moderate Republican allies she won a House debate on medicaid expansion.  She was able to sign into law a bill providing more funding and some reforms to the embattled Department of Children and Families.   She also approved legislation sending more money to public schools, something she believes will meet the state supreme court's requirements.

"Whoever is holding the office usually has the best interest of the country in mind," Trevor Hill said.  "Whatever side parties may be on, they always do what they believe is right."

Many voters in South Central Kansas Tuesday said they're willing to give Kelly a chance, even if they don't agree with her.

"I would like to see more time before I would say, 'Yeah, she's doing a great job!' or 'She's not doing well,'" said  Nathan Svoboda.  "I know that is the typical amount of time.  But, man, after all the hype of an election and into office, I think it takes quite a bit of time before you actually settle into a rhythm."

Many conservatives remain skeptical she'll ever truly represent their interests, especially after she vetoed a tax cut bill and an abortion bill.

"I just don't know much about her and what I've seen is very upsetting, the fact that she's very pro-abortion.  That upsets me because we need to protect our children and we're not.  They're our future and we're killing them," said Deborah Fisher.  "I don't think she'd listen to me because I oppose a lot of what she stands for.  So I don't think she'd listen to me."

The 100 day standard for judging a politician's job performance goes back to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  

"President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s...said, to voters, that you should judge him by what he's done in the first 100 days.  But Roosevelt's first 100 days was in the midst of the worst economic crisis that that this country's ever seen," said Dr. Neal Allen, Wichita State University.  "So it gets applied in a kind of not fair way to any chief executive."

Analysts disagree on whether it's too early to determine just how successful Kelly has been.

"The hundred day thing is arbitrary.  But it is not without at least some connection to reality.  The reality is that any new executive, whether you're talking about a city mayor, whether you're talking a state governor, or whether you're talking about a president, everyone understands that for a variety of political and structural reasons, their best opportunity to move the ball in the direction that they want it to move will be early in their term," said Dr. Russell Arben Fox, Friends University.   "Look at the really major transfer transformations.  They tend to be things that happen early in any given chief executive's term in office.  So yeah, a hundred days is arbitrary.  Nonetheless, it's not unreasonable to take a look at how Kelly is doing as her first legislative session with her as governor comes to an end and say, 'What is this going to tell us about the next three years?' I mean, arbitrary it may be, it's still a reasonable line to draw."

"With the way the Kansas legislature works, 120 or 130 days is a better time to take stock," Allen said.  "Because we're still in the middle of legislative session."

That said, they do agree, by the 100 days measure, she's doing well.

"She is definitely doing a good job, in particular when you compare it to... past Democratic governors and the overall context that she's operating in.  Kelly is a Democratic governor in a Republican state with a strongly conservative opposition," Fox said.  "She's been able to push aside some of the ways that Republicans have tried to derail the things that she wants to do. She's been able to line up moderate Republicans and Democrats to support her. So she does seem to have a strategy."

A strategy that's working for the most part.  That coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans has helped pushed through several of her initiatives.

But not without some pushback.  Senate President Susan Wagle has led the charge, refusing to let the Senate debate that Medicaid expansion plan and challenging the governor on her vetoes of both a tax cut bill and an abortion bill.

"They are both attempting to follow the plan that they gave the voters when they got elected," Allen said.  "It's just Kelly's plan and Wagle's plan are very different....In Kansas we keep giving our politicians conflicting marching orders."

Analysts say Kelly has held true to her campaign promises, but 100 days in is too early to begin making predictions of whether she can win a second term.

Kansas voters, though, have a laundry list of things they'd like to see her working on. 

"I just hope that she continues on the Pro-Life track," Fisher said.  "But I don't think she's going to."

"I'd like to see her do a lot more for small businesses," Stephen Gray said.  "Running a small business is not easy."

"We've had like three child deaths recently," said Knowles.  "(DCF,) they're the ones that are supposed to be watching this and fixing this.  How did we have this many?  That's something I've noticed I've had a lot of conversations about lately."