TOPEKA — A former Kansas governor and Obama administration official on Friday endorsed Topeka Sen. Laura Kelly in the Democratic Party’s campaign for governor.

Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama, announced support for the Topeka senator in conjunction with the party's annual convention in Topeka.

“Laura is the type of tough, experienced, independent thinker who will find real solutions to our challenges,” Sebelius said. “At this moment, she’s exactly what this state needs.”

The field of Democratic candidates for governor will meet Saturday at the convention for a debate. Four of the state's Republican candidates participated recently in a Kansas GOP-sanctioned forum in Wichita.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Svaty, a former state legislator and Kansas agriculture secretary, said the endorsement from Sebelius had been anticipated. He said former Democratic Gov. John Carlin would be joining him Saturday at the Democratic Party’s event.

“This is not a surprise,” Svaty said. “They’ve been next-door neighbors for years. Ask Gov. Carlin about the race. He’ll be serving coffee with us at our table Saturday morning at Washington Days.”

Kelly said she appreciated support from Sebelius and described her as a dedicated public servant who “worked tirelessly as governor to fund our schools” and continued to fight for affordable health care for Kansans.

Other Democrats in the field include House Minority Leader Jim Ward, of Wichita; physician Arden Andersen; high school student Jack Bergeson; former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer; and salesman Robert Klingenberg.

Sebelius, a Lawrence resident, served as governor from 2003 to 2009. She was HHS secretary during initiation of the Affordable Care Act, which has been viewed with scorn by many Kansas Republicans, including Govs. Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer. In January, Colyer replaced Brownback, who resigned to take a job in the administration of President Donald Trump.

Brownback and Colyer consistently opposed expansion of Medicaid under the ACA to provide health insurance to about 150,000 Kansans.

Sebelius said in a statement that leadership of state government provided by Brownback and Colyer had been “heartbreaking for me and even harder on the people of Kansas.”

“Kansas moved from solid financial footing to economic free-fall, neglecting vulnerable citizens and critical services,” Sebelius said. “The Brownback-Colyer agenda has set our state back in countless ways.”