Kan. gets new gov after Sebelius goes to HHS

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) " Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, wooed from the Republican Party three years ago by Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to become her running mate, became governor Tuesday when Sebelius resigned upon her confirmation as U.S. health and human services secretary.

Parkinson, a 51-year-old former Republican legislator and party chairman, has said previously he did not expect to make major policy or staff changes, and that he won't run for a full four-year term next year.

A letter of resignation Sebelius submitted Tuesday became effective with the U.S. Senate's 65-31 vote approving her appointment by President Barack Obama. Sebelius spokesman Seth Bundy said she was traveling to Washington to be sworn in.

The resignation automatically elevated Parkinson to the state's top elected office. He was sworn in by the Kansas Supreme Court's chief justice Tuesday evening during a ceremony at the Statehouse.

Fixing the budget will be Parkinson's most pressing task as the state's 45th governor. He and legislators, who return Wednesday from a break, must eliminate a projected $328 million deficit in the budget previously approved for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In remarks after his swearing-in, Parkinson called for modest steps to balance the budget: delaying tax cuts scheduled to take effect next year, and "decoupling" the federal and state tax codes so that Kansas won't automatically adopt federal tax breaks.

"When we reach this balanced approach, this shared-sacrifice approach, we will have a balanced budget " we'll have a responsible budget " and not a single Kansan will experience a tax increase," Parkinson said.

Many Republicans, particularly the leaders who control majorities in the House and Senate, view Parkinson as more approachable than Sebelius. Many legislators also wonder whether he'll inspire as much loyalty among fellow Democrats as she did.

Sebelius, 60, a former state insurance commissioner and state legislator, won her first gubernatorial election in 2002. She positioned herself as a centrist and successfully wooed moderate Republican voters, gaining national attention as she won two terms in a GOP-leaning state.

Parkinson is largely unknown outside Kansas. He's best known for his high-profile party switch, which left even some Democrats wary.

Parkinson served two years in the House and four in the Senate as a Republican in the 1990s, then left politics to start a nursing home company.

He served as state GOP chairman in 1999-2003, and during the 2002 campaign derided Sebelius' pick of a former Republican for a running mate as a gimmick.

Parkinson later became a Democrat at Sebelius' urging and joined her re-election ticket in 2006; he said he had been wrong about the governor.

GOP legislators were waiting to see how Parkinson would deal with the state's budget problems. Sebelius has tried to avoid cuts in education funding and advocated suspending some planned tax breaks, tapping gambling dollars and diverting funds from cities and counties to boost state revenues.

Like Sebelius, Parkinson opposes a proposal from Sunflower Electric Power Corp. to build two coal-fired power plants in southwest Kansas. Sebelius' administration denied the utility an air-quality permit in October 2007, and she vetoed four bills, including one this year, to overturn that decision.

The transfer of power marked the fourth time a Kansas governor has resigned before his or her term has expired " but the first in which a governor left early to join a president's Cabinet.


On the Net:

Kansas governor: http://www.governor.ks.gov


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