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Profile of Kathleen Sebelius, Health & Human Services Secretary


Profile of Kathleen Sebelius, Health & Human Services Secretary

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Popular Two-Term Governor of Kansas:

Kathleen Sebelius was nominated on March 2, 2009 to be President Obama's Health & Human Services Secretary. She was confirmed on April 28, 2009 by a Senate vote divided along party lines due to her pro-life views.

Democrat Sebelius was elected Governor of red-state Kansas in 2002, and reelected in 2006. She had held state elective office since 1986.

She is a moderate known for her bipartisan leadership. In 2005, Time named her as one of the five best governors in America for eliminating a $1.1 billion debt she inherited.

(Also see Sebelius and Napolitano, Competent Public Face of the Obama Cabinet.)

Special Notability:

In 2004, Kathleen Sebelius was reportedly a candidate to be John Kerry's presidential running mate, and was a strong VP candidate for the 2008 Democratic ticket. Others speculate that Gov. Sebelius may run for the U.S. Senate in 2010, to replace Republican Sen. Sam Brownback.

On January 28, 2008, Kathleen Sebelius delivered the Democratic party's response to the State of the Union address. And on January 29, 2008, Gov. Sebelius endorsed Sen. Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential race.

Experience Prior to Governor:

  • 1995-2003 - Kansas State Insurance Commissioner
  • 1987-94 - Kansas House of Representatives
  • 1974-1987 - a number of appointed statewide offices, including the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Prison Overcrowding, the Kansas Children's Commission and the Kansas Natural Resources Council.

Gov. Sebelius on Issues & Priorities:

Regarded as pro-business, pro-military and fiscally conservative, Kathleen Sebelius, nonetheless, holds certain liberal views not always seen as mainstream in the Midwest, including firm pro-choice beliefs.

Owing to her Catholicism, Sebelius is opposed to capital punishment. And after she famously vetoed a 2006 concealed weapon bill, her veto was decisively overriden by the both houses of the Kansas legislature. As governor, she's faced a myriad of difficult educational funding issues.

Personal Data:

  • Birth - May 15, 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Education - Summit Country Day School in Ohio; B.A. in political science from Trinity Washington University, 1970; M.P.A. from University of Kansas, 1977.
  • Family - Married in 1974 to Gary Sebelius. Two sons, Ned (b. 1982) a graduate of Georgetown Law School, and John (b.1985) a graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.
  • Faith - Roman Catholic
(For more, see Gary and Kathleen Sebelius Marriage Profile.)

Federal Magistrate Judge Gary Sebelius, Married to Gov. Sebelius:

Federal magistrate judge Gary Sebelius was appointed to an eight-term term to the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas in 2002. He was formerly a partner in a Topeka law firm. Born in Kansas, he earned his law degree from Georgetown University in 1974.

Judge Sebelius is reported to have a wonderful sense of humor and a great love of music. His record/CD collection is among the finest in Kansas. He downplays his role as advisor to his governor-wife, and prefers the title "First Dude" of Kansas.

The Governor's Father, Father-in-Law in Politics:

The governor's father is Democratic Gov. John Gilligan, who served on term as Ohio governor before his defeat by a Republican in 1975, a party that generally dominates Ohio politics. Judge Sebelius' father was the late Rep. Keith Sebelius (R-KS), who served six terms in the House before passing away in 1982.

The couple worried about how their fathers (one anti-war liberal, one pro-war conservative) would get along. Per Gary Sebelius, though, "They hit it off famously."

Memorable Quotes:

About Lobbyists

"I don’t mind standing up to the big powerful lobbies, I think that is the role you play in public office. A lot of the consumers don’t have an organized lobby to advocate on their behalf. Those of us who are elected need to have that voice, and that is really what I have tried to do as insurance commissioner.

"There will always be well paid, very articulate lobbyists for industries that make money. What needs to happen is that the other side needs to be brought in, we need to bring that viewpoint to the table."

----- to Trinity Washington University magazine, during 2002 campaign to be Governor of Kansas

About Her Endorsement of Barack Obama

"I am especially pleased to announce my enthusiastic endorsement of Senator Barack Obama for President of the United States - because Barack Obama represents exactly the kind of change Kansans can believe in...

"Senator Obama demonstrates a unique ability to reach across party lines - a quality we need now, right now, to unite our leaders and meet the serious challenges our country faces at home and abroad...

"And, on an especially personal note - I admire the way Senator Obama has inspired a younger generation of Americans, my own children included. For months now, my two sons have implored me to make my admiration for Senator Obama public. To offer him my endorsement, and join this fight for change all of us can believe in. I am proud to do so today."

---- public statement, January 29, 2008

About Her Childhood and Politics

"My father was involved in politics for about 25 years from the time I was 5. In spite of the fact that I have been exposed to politics for most of my life, it really was more about community service.

"My Dad was always committed to that as a way to give something back, make a difference, and work on issues you cared about, but never really suggested to me the notion that I would be a candidate."

----- to Trinity Washington University magazine, during 2002 campaign to be Governor of Kansas

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