Sebelius is the daughter of former Ohio governor John J. Gilligan, and thus they became the first father/daughter governor pair in the United States after her election. Her husband Gary Sebelius is a federal magistrate judge and the son of former U.S. Representative Keith Sebelius. They have two sons. She also visits her childhood and current vacation home, located in Leland, Michigan, north of Traverse City, Michigan.
Early political career
She was first elected to the Kansas House of Representatives in 1986. In 1994, she "left the House to run for state insurance commissioner and stunned political forecasters by winning — 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."
Sebelius defeated Republican Tim Shallenburger in the 2002 election by a vote of 53%-45%. Her victory was partially the result of a bitter divide between conservatives and moderates within the Kansas Republican Party. This divide is touched upon in Thomas Frank's bestseller What's the Matter with Kansas?. Since winning election, Sebelius has successfully built upon her popularity and as of January 2006 was one of the most popular governors in the country.
Sebelius vetoed, like her Republican predecessor Bill Graves, a concealed-carry law that would have allowed citizens to carry concealed weapons after obtaining a state permit and passing a FBI background check. The veto left Kansas as one of only four states without any form of a conceal-carry law.
Sebelius said she supports Kansans' right to own firearms, but does not believe a broad concealed-carry law would make them safer: "I don't believe allowing people to carry concealed handguns into sporting events, shopping malls, grocery stores, or the workplace would be good public policy. And to me the likelihood of exposing children to loaded handguns in their parents purses, pockets and automobiles is simply unacceptable."
On March 21, 2006, she vetoed Senate Bill 418, a similar concealed-carry bill. However, on March 25, Sebelius's veto was overturned after the Kansas House of Representatives voted 91-33 to override it. This followed the Kansas Senate's 30-10 override vote, which occurred the day after her veto.
After the Kansas economy reached its lowest point in over a decade early in her term, the economy has since experienced 22 months of continuous job growth, although the majority of the job growth was the creation of local government jobs. Taxes were never increased during her term in office, nor did essential service suffer cuts.
Sebelius did not support an April 2005 amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would make gay marriage in the state unconstitutional. Sebelius said she supported the existing state law and viewed it as sufficient, and therefore opposed any such amendment. The amendment later passed with 70% voter approval.
Sebelius is "pro-choice" and does not support capital punishment. During her term as governor, the Kansas capital punishment laws were declared unconstitutional by the Kansas Supreme Court. However, on appeal by state Attorney General Phill Kline, the ruling was again overturned and the current law reinstated by the United States Supreme Court.
During her four years in office Sebelius has dealt mainly with education funding problems, which reached a breaking point in the summer of 2005 when the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to increase K-12 funding. Sebelius offered one education funding plan early in her first term which consisted of property, sales, and income tax increases. However Sebelius has since deferred education funding issues to the Kansas legislature, resulting in 2006 with the largest K-12 education funding increase in the history of the state. The three year plan aimed to increase education funding by nearly $1 billion over three years but did not give a funding source for the second and third years. Current state projections show the state in debt by millions of dollars halfway into the second year of the plan.
On May 26, 2006, Sebelius formally announced her candidacy for re-election. Four days later, Mark Parkinson, former Kansas state GOP Party Chairman switched his party affiliation to Democratic; the following day Sebelius announced that Parkinson would be her running mate for Lieutenant Governor. Parkinson had previously served in the state House from 1991-92 and the Senate from 1993-97. This was somewhat reminiscent of the fact that John Moore had also been a Republican, before switching just days prior to joining Sebelius as her running mate.
She was challenged by Republican Kansas State Senator Jim Barnett. A September 1 Rasmussen poll showed Sebelius with an 11% lead over Barnett. Other polls gave Sebelius as much as a 20% lead. However, as of 2004, 50% of Kansas voters were registered Republicans, compared to 27% as registered Democrats. Sebelius, nevertheless, won a landslide re-election with 57.8% of the vote to Barnett's 40.5%. Due to Kansas's term limit law, her second term as Governor will be her last.
Speculation on political future
During the 2004 election, Sebelius was often named as a potential running mate for John Kerry. In May 2004, Kerry accepted an invitation from Sebelius to attend a Governor's Proclamation Ceremony in Topeka to mark the 50th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. In the aftermath of Kerry's defeat in the 2004 presidential election, some pundits named Sebelius as a potential candidate for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. Some of Sebelius's political leanings, including support for abortion rights and opposition to capital punishment, are unusual for a governor of Kansas, and many contend that her appeal would be broad among Midwesterners.
She has been mentioned by political commentators as a possible Vice Presidential nominee in the 2008 election. She is rumored to be considering a 2008 bid for the presidency. Sebelius is now chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association.
It is possible that – building on her ability to win statewide election in Kansas, a heavily Republican state – in 2010 she may seek to become the first Democrat from Kansas to serve in the United States Senate since 1939. Sam Brownback, a current Senator from Kansas, a candidate for the 2008 presidential election, currently occupies that seat, and has vowed not to serve beyond the two terms he has already been elected to. She could also run for the Senate in 2008 against Pat Roberts.
In 2001, Sebelius was named as one of Governing Magazine's Public Officials of the Year while she was serving as Kansas Insurance Commissioner.
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. Also praised was her bipartisan approach to governing.
In February 2006, the White House Project named Sebelius one of its "8 in '08", a group of eight female politicians who could possibly run and/or be elected president in 2008.