Gov. Laura Kelly pledged Wednesday that a disappointing slate of election results for Democrats wouldn’t deter her commitment to a robust COVID-19 pandemic response.
Democrats failed to break Republican supermajorities in both chambers of the state Legislature, which could complicate Kelly’s legislative agenda on a host of issues, including COVID-19.
But Kelly said she was looking forward to working across the aisle to get results, noting that such a concept wasn’t new for Kansas Democrats.
"From the day I walked onto the (Kansas) Senate floor, I realized that the only way I was going to get anything done and be the least as a legislator was to go across the aisle and build relationships and work with people to pass good policy," she said. "I will continue to operate in the same way."
Kelly said she was "disappointed" that her old Kansas Senate seat fell into Republican hands but said the triumph for Republican Kristen O’Shea wasn’t a shock.
"I’m not surprised," she said. "That’s a heavily Republican district that I was very fortunate to be able to win four times."
But focus on the election, she said, shouldn’t drown out the seriousness of the pandemic.
Her words come as the state reported 2,988 new cases of COVID-19 since Monday, as well as an increase of 41 deaths.
The state’s seven-day rolling averages for cases cracked 1,500 on Monday, marking the highest it has been since the pandemic began.
Hospitals in Wichita and western Kansas have reported their beds have filled to capacity.
In Topeka, Stormont Vail Hospital reported the highest number of positive patients yet at its facilities with 45.
Statewide, Kansas’ seven-day test positivity rate is 36%, the third-highest rate in the country, behind only South Dakota and Iowa.
She also underscored her desire to work with Republican legislative leaders on a potential compromise on the issue of a mask mandate.
While Kelly’s original mask mandate was made optional for counties over the summer, she has said she would consider pursuing a new way of re-implementing the directive as cases rise across the state.
That culminated in a meeting between the governor and Republican leaders where it was agreed that voluntary compliance should first be prioritized by working with local elected officials.
Kelly said that remained the plan and reiterated that she didn’t have a "drop-dead" date in mind for when she might reconsider efforts to spearhead a mask mandate on her own.
She struck a more conciliatory tone on working with Republican officials going forward.
"Negotiations take time," she said. "So we will continue to work with the leadership in the Legislature. Because, honestly, if we're going to make this happen, we're going to need their support and their help to work with our local officials."
But while she supported the notion for a public service campaign encouraging mask wearing, she said, one way or another, the practice needs to be more widely embraced to control the spread.
That comes even as residents in counties where face coverings are required don’t always comply.
"We know common-sense health precautions work if we follow them diligently," she said.