Governor Laura Kelly, a former state senator, is the third woman to ever be elected to the office in Kansas History. She spoke to the Women’s Foundation about her background as a public servant, the challenges she has faced, and why she hopes even more women get involved in their communities.
What made you decide to get involved in public service?
I wasn’t born into politics, but I was born into public service. I’m the daughter of a career military officer. My parents taught me to put service and sacrifice above self, like so many military families do each day.
When I graduated high school, I went to work helping kids who faced significant challenges and struggles. And since then, it has been my mission to do right by our children and families. As an elected leader, I will always work to improve our communities and invest in our children’s future.
What’s the biggest challenge or setback you’ve faced?
I’ve found that often women must work harder to be taken seriously in the workplace. Despite my career as a recreational therapist, as the Executive Director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association for 18 years, and as a four-term State Senator, I still had my qualifications questioned when campaigning for governor. That must change for future generations of women.
What is your advice to others, especially women, who want to get involved in public service?
I’ve met many women that sadly don’t think they are prepared or qualified enough to run for office, whereas men rarely think like that.
I hope women recognize that they have absolutely the kind of qualities that make for a really good public servant: the ability to listen, collaborate, and work with others. That's how you get things done, especially when you working in a bipartisan manner.
Is there anything that has surprised you about public service?
When I worked at the Kansas Recreation and Park Association, I was always so inspired by the folks who keep up the parks and ball fields in small towns across this state. They often don’t get paid much, and often work more than one job. But they are committed to making their communities better one day, one game, one theater performance, at a time. One baseball game at a time. Their work makes a true difference in the quality of life in our communities.
What’s your favorite thing about serving in your role?
Though I am new in my role as governor, my favorite part thus far has been meeting the people of Kansas and hearing their concerns and aspirations. I’m consistently impressed with their dedication to their communities and willingness to help one another.
How has your background shaped the way you serve your constituents?
Growing up in a military family and spending my early career with working with children with mental illness, I learned first-hand the importance of giving back to others and what it truly means to be a public servant.
Have you ever had a mentor, or someone who inspired you?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have quite a few mentors and inspirations in my career, but in particular I’ve always admired Senator Nancy Kassebaum and the historic work she accomplished for our state and country.