Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

Okay, I Give In: My Case for Kathleen Sebelius

Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas

Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas

Okay, I totally give in. I’ve resisted writing a Veepstakes post for a long time, but given all the speculation over Tim Kaine, I felt compelled. Quick disclaimer: I do come from the school of thought that the VP is of minimal importance, except as it reflects on the judgment of the candidate. So, having said that, here’s my case for why I think Kathleen Sebelius is the best choice for Barack Obama (now that my previous best choice, Mark Warner, has taken himself out of the running):

For those who don’t know much about her, here’s a quick re-cap:

Sebelius is in her second term as governor of Kansas. She has been in public life in some form or another since the 1980s, although if you count her upbringing, even from a younger age: her father John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio, where Sebelius was born and raised. Additionally, her husband, K. Gary Sebelius, is a federal magistrate judge and son of former Republican Congressman Keith Sebelius.

Sebelius began her public career in the Kansas House of Representatives in 1986. In 1994, she left to run for state Insurance Commissioner, and won (against all odds in a Republican state),

the first time a Democrat had won in more than 100 years. She is credited with bringing the agency out from under the influence of the insurance industry. She refused to take campaign contributions from insurers and blocked the proposed merger of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas, the state’s largest health insurer, with an Indiana-based company. The decision by Sebelius marked the first time the corporation had been rebuffed in its acquisition attempts.”

In 2002 she was elected as governor and re-elected in 2006. She has governed in a bi-partisan manner, but has stuck true to her principles as a Dem, and famously recruited a Republican to switch parties and serve as her Lt. Gov.

In November 2005, Time named Sebelius as one of the five best governors in America, praising her for eliminating a $1.1 billion debt she inherited, ferreting out waste in state government, and strongly supporting public education — all without raising taxes, although she proposed raising sales, property, and income taxes. Also praised was her bipartisan approach to governing, a useful trait in a state where Republicans have usually controlled the legislature.

She has a wide variety of accomplishments to her name, but among my favorites was her three-in-a-row vetoes of legislation that would set up coal-burning plants in her state, a huge victory for the environment – an issue that she’s on the cutting edge of (especially since Kansas is such a windy state).

Additionally, she made a name for herself on the foreign policy front, criticizing the Iraq War after a series of tornadoes tore up her state and she publicly criticized Bush for taking away equipment and the Kansas National Guard. She has traveled extensively, including to visit Kansas troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Okay, so, at the end of the day, why her?

1) She has been in public life for a long time, is no public policy lightweight, and couldn’t be painted as such (the one exception being foreign affairs). She’s been in governing positions a lot longer than Tim Kaine, for example, and has more notable achievements to her name.

2) Battleground help: born and raised in Ohio, where her father, the former governor still lives. Additionally, she has a vacation home in Michigan where she visits annually.

3) Focus on the economy and domestic issues: nothing says focus on middle America like Kansas.

4) Change: an outsider.

5) Governing: she is the perfect example of strong, competent governance in a bi-partisan fashion, and gets along great with Obama.

6) Warmth: one of the knocks against Obama is his too-cool-for-school-ness, and she can ease off that edge.

7) Catholic: born and raised a Roman Catholic, she can help connect with that group.

Now, some of the cons I can see being raised:

1) No foreign policy experience: agreed, but I think the economy is going to be issue number one, and she can spin her travels abroad to visit troops and recruit business to her state. She’s intelligent and a serious public servant with good judgment.

2) She’s not the most exciting speaker: no, but she generally does much better than her State of the Union response. She’s a perfectly decent speaker, and lack of charisma isn’t going to be an issue with Obama at the top of the ticket.

3) She doesn’t bring Kansas: so what? Did Bush pick Cheney in order to carry Wyoming? Clinton would have won Tennessee without Gore anyway.

4) A woman and a black man on the ticket is too much change: maybe, only one way to find out.

5) And the elephant in the room – if you’re going to pick a woman, why not Hillary?: this is such an outrageously sexist and preposterous argument to make, it’s hard to know where to begin. If anyone starts making that argument in sincerity, you’d almost hope there would be a backlash to it since it’s so inherently offensive. And besides, I think there were a lot of women who were galvanized by the NOTION of a female chief executive that, in the end, I think this would help mobilize more than antagonize.

So, there it is. I’m perfectly open-minded to almost anyone, but if Obama is going with the outside-of-Washington-change-good-governance route, I really hope he strongly considers Sebelius. It would be an ENORMOUS media event if he picked her, and I think she’s more of a public policy heavyweight than Tim Kaine without the years of Washington-insider-baggage the Senate choices have.

Agree? Disagree? Have at it.


July 29, 2008 - Posted by | Polling, Uncategorized, Veepstakes | ,


  1. She’s my top pick from the acknowledged shortlist. I like Schweitzer best, but it sounds like he’s out of the running.

    My sentiments on the Veep job: the Obama campaign has been great on everything, and I trust them to find the right person for the second half of the ticket. That said, Kathleen would make me very happy.

    Comment by zenbowl | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  2. She’s been my first choice all along!

    Obama/Sebelius ’08

    Comment by Yes! | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  3. Sebelius has been my top VP pick for Obama from the beginning. Thanks for such a thoughtful and comprehensive list of the case for (and against) Sebelius. One positive that I think you forgot, however: Obama and Sebelius have great chemistry. When they are together, they look great, and he positively glows. Unlike when he is on the stage with Hillary (and he seems nervous, tenative… not quite himself), Obama seems to gain energy when he is around her, and his smile lights up the room. This is an important factor, I think, not only in the campaign, but in governing.

    Comment by Tony | July 29, 2008 | Reply

  4. Point well made. No matter who Obama picks for VP, I am going to vote for him, and I fully expect him to make a sensible choice. That being said, I think Sebelius would be an excellent choice.

    Carlos Jean-Gilles
    St. Louis, MO

    Comment by Carlos Jean-Gilles | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  5. It is an insult to women’s intelligence to paint them in to the Hillary corner. There are so many intelligent, highly competent, creative, and sucessful women out there who could be outstanding in the capacity of VP or President, Sebelius and Mcaskill to name a few. It would be pretty offensive stereotype of women to assume that they would be offended if a competent woman other than Hillary was selected to be Obama’s running mate and possibly a future President of the United States.

    Comment by Running Bear | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  6. Kathleen was my neighbor and the mother of my children’s freinds. One other thing that hasn’t been pointed out is she is truly dedicated to not just her family, but to all families. I am a regular working class stiff in a middle class neighbohood, she always welcomed my family into her home. Her and Obama share a love of family and children, does McBush? If you polled the neighborhood, you would find overwheliming support for Kathleen.

    Comment by KeithM | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  7. great post – I’ve put a link to it in a diary on Sebelius at DailyKos

    Comment by indybend | July 30, 2008 | Reply

  8. I know Kathleen Sebelius pretty well. I could go on for quite a while about her, but I’ll just say she’s trustworthy and very talented – the complete antithesis of the present national administration. We’d be lucky to have her as vice president, or even in the top job.

    Comment by FlownOver | July 31, 2008 | Reply

  9. I have been routing for Kathleen Selelius for some time. I have sent Obama several e-mails praising her achievements. He cannot do better than her as the VP on the ticket. It is all about change. What a wonderful change to see an African American male and a female on the ticket to represent the democratic party and then go on the represent American. I am so excited about this prospect. Lets all work together to make this happen.
    Paula M CA

    Comment by Paula Miller | August 1, 2008 | Reply

  10. She’s a good pick!!

    Comment by frank pumassuc | September 29, 2008 | Reply

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