Kansas Gov. Kelly calls for ‘civility and kindness’ in second inaugural speech

Democrat sworn in alongside fellow statewide officials in ceremony at the Statehouse

By: and - January 9, 2023 2:53 pm

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly gives her second inaugural address at the Kansas Statehouse. Kelly said leaders should follow the example set by everyday Kansans of kindness and civility. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

It’s time to turn down the volume and reject the divisive politics of Washington, D.C., Gov. Laura Kelly said Monday. Instead, she said, Kansas leaders should be “guided by civility and kindness, even when we disagree.” 

“Perhaps, especially when we disagree,” Kelly said.

Kelly, a Democrat, took the oath of office and began her second term on the south steps of the Kansas Capitol. In her second inaugural address, she called on political leaders to follow the example of everyday Kansans, who she says look out for each other in times of trouble.

“Years from now, if we’re remembered for one thing, let it be this: at a time when national politics was defined by hostility and division, here in Kansas, we chose civility and unity,” Kelly said. “And the people we serve and the state we love are better off for it.”

Kelly won reelection in November preaching a similar message. While concerns about the loss of abortion rights drove Democratic campaigns across the country, Kelly focused her message on successfully balancing Kansas’ budget, funding schools, luring economic development and investing in Kansas’ future.

Gov. Laura Kelly takes the oath of office on the steps of the Kansas Capitol. Kelly began her second term on Monday. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

It worked. Kelly, who served in the Kansas Senate before running for governor, narrowly defeated then-Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican.

“We’re often told that there’s ‘a fork in the road’ and you have a choice to make — you can either go right or you can go left,” Kelly said. “I believe that is a false choice. I believe the best choice is right down the middle of that road.”

Kelly was sworn in alongside fellow statewide officials and Kansas Supreme Court justices,  both Democrats and Republicans. The ceremony drew a crowd of hundreds.

Tina Tetuan of Wichita and Keith Schrock of Topeka added color to inaugural festivities by playing ancient musical instruments made from long, curled ram’s horns. Both had leather straps allowing the player to carry the instrument over his or her shoulder.

Tetuan said she was honoring use of a shofar in the capture of Jericho.

“It’s the voice of God. When we blew the shofar we prayed. It’s time for a change. God is coming forward,” Tetuan said. “We’re trying to elect conservatives — people who are true Republicans, not RINOs. We pray for these people that they’re aligned with Him.”

A few signs touting new Attorney General Kris Kobach could be seen, but protesters weren’t visiblein the audience.

Margaret Schrock of Topeka held aloft a flag featuring a pine tree with the motto “An Appeal to Heaven.” It was first deployed on ships commissioned under George Washington’s authority as commander in chief of the Continental Army in 1775. To Schrock, the message of the flag was religious.

“We believe in God,” Schrock said. “We believe He wanted this nation to happen in the beginning. We want our country to be run by Godly values. Otherwise, I don’t think we’re going to survive as a nation.”

Cannons fire at the celebration of Gov. Laura Kelly’s second inauguration. Kelly began her second term with a message of unity. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

‘Spirit of togetherness’

Kelly opened her address by reflecting on her first inauguration in 2019. While Monday was sunny and warm, that day was bleak, Kelly said, “perhaps a reflection of where we were as a state.”

“But today, four years later,” Kelly said, “it’s warm and sunny, and so is the future of Kansas.”

A year into her first term, Kelly said, the state had fully funded its schools and put its economy and budget “back on track.” 

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic — ”without warning or remorse.” The early days of the crisis — the spring of 2020 — inspired “a spirit of togetherness” among Kansans “the likes of which we’ve never seen,” the governor said. 

Before issues associated with the pandemic such as masks, vaccines, and school and business reopenings were politicized, there was a window when politics melted away, Kelly said. “A basic sense of shared humanity” filled that void. That’s part of who Kansans have always been.

“You see it during floods and tornadoes and wildfires, when Kansans open their hearts and their homes to neighbors in need,” the governor said. 

Kelly said Kansans choose “kindness, cooperation and civility” over and over. She called on leaders to do the same. 

“We cannot let the hostility and anger that has poisoned our national politics spread here to Kansas,” Kelly said. 

Choosing the middle of the road, she said, has led to huge success in Kansas. 

Kelly cited the accomplishments of her strategy, including funding public education, providing tax relief in a time of inflation, fixing roads and bridges, funding investments in the state’s water, turning a budget deficit into the biggest surplus ever, and bringing a Panasonic battery plant to DeSoto in the state’s largest economic development project in state history.

“We got our state back on track, and we did it by working together, as one Kansas — not western or eastern, not Democrat or Republican,” Kelly said. “One Kansas.” 

Kelly will detail her plans for the next four years in her State of the State address this week, but she said her “North Star” is “to make Kansas the best place in America to raise a family.”

“We want families to choose Kansas as a place to lay down roots, to call home — just like my family did nearly 37 years ago.”


Photos from the inaguration

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Allison Kite
Allison Kite

Allison Kite is a data reporter for The Missouri Independent and Kansas Reflector, with a focus on the environment and agriculture. A graduate of the University of Kansas, she’s covered state government in both Topeka and Jefferson City, and most recently was City Hall reporter for The Kansas City Star.

Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.