As Laura Kelly addressed a gathering of Democrats clustered in corners and along the bar at Patrick Dugan’s coffee house in Garden City, she reached out to her “old buddy,” former Kansas Sen. Stephen Morris.

Morris, who represented the 39th district from 1993-2013 and was Senate president when he and Kelly shared time in the Senate, asked to speak.

“I think you all know that I’m a Republican. We hear a lot, both nationally and in the state about divisiveness between Republicans and Democrats. Kobach is excellent at making that situation worse. And Laura Kelly is one who will help make that so much better,” he said.

“She’s very good at bringing Democrats and Republicans together. She would be a governor for everybody…”

A night’s sleep separated from the Southwest Kansas Gubernatorial Debate in Garden City Thursday night, at which all five of Kansas’ candidates for governor debated policy and performance, Kelly met supporters Friday morning for a meet and greet event, listening to issues that mattered to locals and continuing to make a case for herself.

Kelly told onlookers that her administration, if elected, would first tackle the Kansas Supreme Court’s notes on the legislature’s public education funding plan, then move to repair other government agencies and programs she said were hurt in former Governor Sam Brownback’s tax experiment. The state foster care system was a “complete and total mess,” she said, and the mental health system is “totally shattered,” and that needed the government’s attention and action.

Programs, including hospitals, roads and schools across the state, needed state support, she said.

Her campaign would dedicate itself in part to rural community development, largely through an action plan headed by members of her administration, her lieutenant governor, Lynn Rogers, campaign treasurer David Toland of Thrive Allen County and Patty Clark of the United States Department of Agriculture. The initiative would largely run out of a state Office of Rural Prosperity, she said.

“We can work with folks that you do have on the ground to assist them in building communities … We will put that in place as soon as we get into office so we can get going. Because as you all know, there is no time to waste,” Kelly said.

Garden City resident Trace Waugh said she supported Kelly for many reasons: her welcoming, localized approach to immigration, her support for education. But that point, and Rogers’ farming background, was important to her.

“I’m a sixth-generation farmer from northwest Kansas, and having someone who actually understands farm on her campaign helps a lot…" Waugh said. "If (Republican candidate Kris) Kobach reinstates the policy of the LLCs getting tax breaks, it only helps some farmers…”

"(Kelly) won’t do that. And I know she won’t, because she has someone that understands agriculture and how it affects our state.”

Verna Weber of Garden City said she had worked with Kelly when living in Topeka and was impressed with her dedication to early childcare development. The senator, Weber said, was “absolutely 100 percent” behind the issue.

“She understands the importance of it and she has worked a lot during the last eight years to make sure that the money from the tobacco settlement is not taken from the kids. She worked really hard on that. So, I really respect for that,” Weber said.

Kelly answered local questions about early childhood development and childcare and foster care, saying she planned to work in a “public-private manner” to develop the former. For foster care, she said her administration would restore the cut staffs to the foster care systems and continue to work with social workers, judges, parents and others involved in the system to invest in change.

Locals asked questions about voter fraud and increases to state salaries, KPERS and KanCare. Kelly said afterward that a resident had asked her about establishing access to four-year higher education institutions in southwest Kansas, such as the proposed Kansas Board of Regents University Center in Dodge City.

The center, with satellite locations in Garden City and Liberal, would give students local access to certain bachelor’s and post-bachelor’s programs from several state universities. Kelly said she would work with the regents “to make sure that we make that happen.”

Jessica Bird of Garden City said Kelly had her vote because of her dedication to education, but also because of Kelly herself.

“She’s just fair. And you don’t see that in very many politicians, especially career politicians. They’re very one-sided. And she’s seems to be … the right mind. And, never disrespectful. She’s just not ugly about things, and that’s why I like her,” Bird said.

Polls have shown Kelly and Kobach bringing in nearly identical numbers since they were named their respective parties’ nominees. The race would be close, Kelly said, and determined by “whatever side gets their people out.”

“You look at Dodge City and we know there are efforts to keep folks from voting. Don’t let that happen, and don’t let that happen to any people who live here," Kelly said. "If you need to, offer them a ride. Whatever it takes ... There are ways to do this, but we got to have the best and biggest turnout we ever have if we’re going to take this state back.”

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.