Miller Center

Kathleen Sebelius (2009-2014) - Secretary of Health and Human Services

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Kathleen Sebelius was born into a political family on May 15, 1948, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Her father, John Gilligan, was governor of Ohio from 1971 to 1975. She attended Trinity Washington University in Washington, D.C., and then married Gary Sebelius and moved with him to his home state of Kansas. Her father-in-law, Keith Sebelius, was a U.S. Representative from Kansas from 1969 to 1981. Kathleen Sebelius earned a master's in public administration from the University of Kansas in 1977. She began her career as a lobbyist for the Kansas Trial Lawyer Association and then served in the Kansas state legislature from 1987 to 1994. She left elected office to become the Kansas' insurance commissioner. In 2002, she was elected governor of Kansas and won reelection in 2006. Being a Democratic governor in a Republican-leaning state, Sebelius gained a reputation of working across the partisan divide and reaching compromises with Republicans. She focused on improving education in Kansas, reducing the state's budget deficit, and expanding health care coverage, especially for children. She was chosen to give the Democratic response to President George W. Bush's State of the Union Address in 2008, an honor usually given to politicians who are considered rising stars in the Democratic Party. Sebelius was an early supporter of Barack Obama as he began his run for the presidency. Obama chose her as secretary of Health and Human Services after his first choice, Thomas Daschle, stepped down because of unpaid taxes. Sebelius was sworn in on April 29, 2009. With President Barack Obama hoping to overhaul the country's health care system, Sebelius was expected to play a role in its legislative proposal and implementation.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

Michael Nelson

Professor Nelson is the Fulmer Professor Political Science at Rhodes College, a senior fellow of the Miller Center, and the senior contributing editor and book editor of the Cook Political Report. He is the author of multiple books on American politics and government, including:

Resilient America: Electing Nixon in 1968, Channeling Dissent, and Dividing Government (University Press of Kansas), which won the American Political Science Association’s Richard E. Neustadt Award for Best Book on the Presidency published in 2014

How the South Joined the Gambling Nation: The Politics of State Policy Innovation (LSU Press), which won the Southern Political Science Association’s V.O. Key Award for Outstanding Book on Southern Politics published in 2006