Kathleen Sebelius life and biography

Kathleen Sebelius picture, image, poster

Kathleen Sebelius biography

Date of birth : 1958-05-15
Date of death : -
Birthplace : Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Politics
Last modified : 2010-06-23
Credited as : Politician and governor, United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Obama administration

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Kathleen Sebelius (also known as: Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius) born May 15, 1958 in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States is an American politician, governor and legislator.


In November 2002, Kathleen Sebelius was elected governor of Kansas. A Democrat, Sebelius had been active in insurance reform, and previously served as Kansas's insurance commissioner and in the state legislature. Her election was a rare victory for Democrats in the Republican-dominated state.

Sebelius was born Kathleen Gilligan on May 15, 1958, in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was one of four children born to John J. Gilligan and his wife, Mary Katherine. Her father was a Democrat and a career politician. He served one term as the governor of Ohio, and was a Cincinnati city councilman and a congressman. He also served on the Cincinnati school board and was a professor of literature. Sebelius's mother was a schoolteacher.

Early Exposure to Politics

From an early age, Sebelius was exposed to politics and community service. She helped her father on his campaigns, and was exposed to political talk at home. She also volunteered for a number of organizations in the area. These qualities also came into play when she entered Trinity College, an all-girls Catholic school in Washington, D.C. Majoring in political science, she was involved in campus politics and the women's movement.

After graduating with a B.A. in 1970, Sebelius remained in the D.C. area working for the Center for Correctional Justice. There she met K. Gary Sebelius, who was attending Georgetown Law School. They married on December 31, 1974, and she returned with him to his home state of Kansas, where they had two sons, Ned and John, together. Gary Sebelius worked as an attorney and later, a magistrate judge.

Public Service in Kansas

Sebelius's first job in Kansas was as the special assistant to the Kansas secretary of corrections. She was the first professional woman to be hired by the Kansas Department of Corrections. In 1978, she became the executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers. During this time, she earned her master's of public administration from the University of Kansas.

In 1986, Sebelius was elected to the Kansas state legislature as a Democrat. She was re-elected three times to two-year terms. During her time in the state legislature, she had a key part in the creating the Committee on Children and Families. Sebelius was also its first chairperson. She often fought for increased state funding for programs for children and pregnant women. Sebelius also was a member of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, serving as its chair from 1991 to 1992.

Elected Insurance Commissioner

In 1994, Sebelius was elected Kansas's Insurance Commissioner. She was one of only two elected Democrats in the primarily Republican state. The last Democrat to hold this office was in the late 1800s. When she defeated incumbent Republican Ron Todd, she also became the first woman and the first politician to hold the post. As commissioner, she regulated all the insurance sold in the state of Kansas.

She faced a number of challenges when she first took office. Though the Insurance Commission was originally supposed to serve the interests of the consumers of Kansas, it had become more a tool of the insurance industry. Sebelius returned its focus to protecting consumers while bringing more business to Kansas and creating competitive markets. She also modernized outdated regulations.

As early as 1996, the Democratic party in Kansas wanted Sebelius to run for the United States Senate, but she declined. She was elected to a second term as Insurance Commissioner in 1998. In December of that year, she was elected secretary-treasurer of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. By 2001, she was the group's president, and working for some of the same issues that she had in Kansas. These included consumer protection, less regulation of commercial insurance, and increasing tax credits for businesses that gave their employees health insurance. In 2001, she was named one of the top ten public officials in America by Governing Magazine.

Elected Governor of Kansas

In 2001, Sebelius began her campaign for the governorship of Kansas. The state's Republican governor, Bill Graves, was leaving office because of term limits. Though only 28 percent of the state's registered voters were Democrats, Sebelius also attracted moderate Republicans and independents. Her running mate was John Moore, a Republican and executive vice president for Cessna Aircraft Company in Wichita. Her opponent was a conservative Republican, Tim Shallenburger. Shallenburger tried to label Sebelius as extremely liberal, not unlike U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.

In her campaign, Sebelius focused on education and social services, as well as the big financial issues facing Kansas. Though Shallenburger vowed to not raise taxes, Sebelius was more realistic, saying that raising taxes would be her last choice. Her message emphasized "I'm on your side." In an editorial endorsement of her candidacy the Marysville Advocate, an unnamed author wrote "She is a successful office holder who has put the interest of consumers first, has a proven record of cost-saving efficiency and an ability to get things done by working closely with people of all stripes."

Sebelius won the election, garnering 53 percent of the vote. One of her first acts was to audit all state spending and to review the whole of the state's government, using Republicans as well as Democrats in the process. She inherited a state that had a slow economy, problems collecting taxes, and a large budget deficit. During her campaign, Sebelius was ready to face these challenges and was quoted by Jim McLean of the Capital-Journal as saying, "I think what Kansans are looking for is somebody with experience, who shares their priorities and values and who is willing to make tough calls and work on their behalf. I'm a believer that everybody knows we're in tough times and that we've got to make some very tough choices."

In early 2009, President Barack Obama turned to Sebelius when seeking a candidate for the Secretary of Health and Human Services post in his new administration, after former senator Tom Daschle withdrew his nomination for that role. The United States Senate did not confirm Sebelius until late April 2009, when news of a possible pandemic known as swine flu began making headlines, first in Mexico and then around the world. Without a surgeon general and other key officials in place, Sebelius faced a huge challenge that would be sure to test her skill in her new role.

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