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First woman joins crowded 2018 race for Kansas governor

December 15, 2017

FILE - In this Jan. 21, 2016, file photo, Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka speaks on the Senate floor at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Kelly on Friday, Dec. 15, 2017, became the first woman to enter the 2018 governor's race in Kansas and joins a crowded field of men seeking to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Sam Brownback. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP, File)

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — The first woman to enter the 2018 governor’s race in Kansas joined on Friday a crowded field of men seeking to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Democratic State Sen. Laura Kelly becomes the 22nd candidate to launch a campaign or appoint a treasurer. Twelve Republicans, seven Democrats and three independents are in the race.

The 67-year-old has served in the Senate since 2005, and she’s viewed as a serious contender.

Kelly is the top Democrat on the Senate Ways and Means Committee and is highly visible in budget and tax debates. She is a leading critic of the Brownback administration, including its oversight of the state’s foster care system and Medicaid programs and a proposal from the state Department of Corrections for a private company to build a new prison in Lansing.

“I didn’t expect to be in this position a year ago, but I simply cannot sit by and let the same Brownback allies who mismanaged our state lead Kansas for another four years,” Kelly wrote in a news release announcing her candidacy.

She said the last election brought a wave of new faces to the Kansas Legislature with a clear mandate to end the “failed Brownback tax experiment.”

“After devastating budget cuts, three state credit rating downgrades and dismantling of our state’s most important investments, lawmakers came together to chart a new path forward,” she said.

Her candidacy is likely to play best with the party’s progressive wing, but she’s also likely to pick up some support from the center. Also, she was a neighbor of Kathleen Sebelius, before Sebelius was elected governor in 2002.

Josh Svaty, a Democratic candidate for governor, welcomed her candidacy in a statement in which he portrayed his party’s gubernatorial race as picking the best candidate to face Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, likely the leading candidate for the Republican nomination.

“This doesn’t change the ultimate objective for Kansas Democrats, which is to identify the best nominee who can defeat Kris Kobach next November,” Svaty said.

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