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Posted on Tue, Apr. 28, 2009 10:15 PM
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Sebelius sworn in to Cabinet, Parkinson becomes Kansas governor

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is sworn in by Tim Saunders, Executive Clerk of the White House, as President Barack Obama holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) STARSHOT0428
Charles Dharapak
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is sworn in by Tim Saunders, Executive Clerk of the White House, as President Barack Obama holds the Bible in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 28, 2009. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) STARSHOT0428

Kansas has a new governor and the nation has a new top health official.

Former Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius was sworn in as health and human services secretary as President Barack Obama held the Bible at a White House ceremony Tuesday night.

The appointment places her at the forefront of the administration’s efforts to combat the sudden, worrisome spread of swine flu, and also the administration’s highly touted campaign to overhaul America’s health-care system.

Obama said he was thrilled to have Sebelius in his administration.

“We wanted to swear her in right away because we’ve got a lot of health challenges,” the president said. “We need all hands on deck. I expect her to hit the ground running. She is the right person at the right time for the job.”

Lt. Gov. Mark Parkinson, a Democrat from Olathe, immediately became Kansas’ 45th governor upon Sebelius’ resignation, which coincided with her Senate confirmation vote earlier in the day.

At a hastily called ceremony Tuesday night in Topeka, Parkinson, 51, took the oath of office and pledged to put aside party labels and work to balance the budget without tax increases or devastating cuts in services.

“I love this state and I’m excited to serve it at a time of real need,” Parkinson said. “… I’m an optimist. And despite the challenging times that we face, I want all Kansans to know this: We will make it through these difficult times.

“Kansans have faced adversity many times in the past and on every occasion, we have not only survived, we have prospered.”

As a sign of the importance that the White House put on her post, Sebelius flew to Washington on the same busy day that included the Senate voting 65-31 to approve her nomination — making her the last member of Obama’s Cabinet on the eve of the 100-day mark of his presidency.

Following her swearing in she made no comment, but instead went immediately to the White House Situation Room for a briefing on the swine flu outbreak, a briefing held by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security.

Sebelius’ department oversees not only the Medicaid and Medicare programs, but also the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. It also oversees the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is playing a key role in dealing with the flu crisis.

Sebelius, 60, was a state lawmaker and insurance commissioner before winning the governor’s office in 2002. She capitalized on divisions within the Republican Party and appealed to a broad base of moderate voters.

“Every state has its political superstars, and she was it,” said Washburn University political scientist Bob Beatty. “She’s not one who can jump up on stage and in 10 minutes have everyone in a frenzy. But she figured out how to be a successful Democrat in a Republican state.”

Health-care reform always had been a personal interest for Sebelius, though most of her measures failed to win over the GOP-led Legislature. She found more success in fighting for school funding increases and opposing new coal plants proposed for western Kansas.

Her national profile, however, began to take off late in her first term. Time magazine named her one of the nation’s top governors, and she became an early Obama supporter. Last year she delivered the Democrats’ response to a State of the Union speech; was co-host at the party’s national convention; and was mentioned as a possible Obama running mate.

To reach David Goldstein, Washington correspondent, call 202-383-6105, or send e-mail to dgoldstein@mcclatchydc.com. To reach David Klepper, The Star’s Topeka correspondent, call 785-354-1388, or send

Posted on Tue, Apr. 28, 2009 10:15 PM
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