Dem governor comes out against Biden's vaccine mandate

(Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP, File)

We’ve gotten used to seeing Republican governors coming out against Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate for private-sector employers. In fact, a group of them have already filed a lawsuit seeking to block it. But when you start getting pushback from similarly positioned members of your own party, perhaps it’s time to take the hint. That’s what happened this week when Democratic Kansas Governor Laura Kelly issued a statement objecting to the policy and announcing her decision against enforcing it. Rather than attacking Biden over violations of people’s personal freedoms or privacy, however, Kelly took the much more polite approach of saying that Kansas already has its own plans in place and doesn’t believe that the national mandate is the “most effective” approach and it wouldn’t be the “best fit” for the needs of Kansas residents. (The Hill)

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, came out on Friday against President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for businesses with 100 or more employees, saying she doesn’t think it’s the “correct” or “most effective” move.

The Democratic governor, who is up for reelection next year, said she appreciates “the intention to keep people safe” but doesn’t think the administration’s vaccinate-or-test requirements serve as a “solution for Kansas.”

“It is too late to impose a federal standard now that we have already developed systems and strategies that are tailored for our specific needs,” she said.

Biden continues to tell the public that “vaccination requirements have broad public support.” But that’s not really the question currently before us. The courts have regularly upheld the rights of governors and state legislatures to issue such rules, but that’s because each state retains significant power to determine its own destiny. Trying to force a rule like this on the states against their will is widely regarded as being significantly more problematic from a constitutional perspective.

But why would Laura Kelly take this sort of public position and buck her own party and a Democratic president? Don’t be too surprised if this turns out to have more to do with politics than public health and safety. (As has been the case with most of the pandemic theater we’ve been seeing for the past couple of years.)

It’s true that Laura Kelly is a Democratic governor, but she governs a state (Kansas) that is still far from being a blue, liberal stronghold. Kansas may not be as red as it once was, but there are still some strong conservative bastions there and Kelly is no doubt aware of that fact.

Consider the 2018 election that put her in office. Not only didn’t she defeat Kris Kobach in a blowout, but she also didn’t even gain a majority of the votes. She finished with 47.8% of the votes. That was due in large part to the unusually strong showing of independent candidate Greg Orman. Also, Kobach had a number of “issues” of his own at the time that made his bid challenging.

Kelly received a lot of GOP endorsements during her 2018 race, frequently talking more like a conservative than a liberal. But since being in office, much of that support may be eroding. She’s already vetoed two Republican bills aimed at reducing state income tax rates, drawing a rebellion from the GOP legislature. She also issued a COVID mandate of her own banning certain gatherings that applied to religious services. This created even more pushback from conservatives in the legislature and even some members of her own cabinet.

She is in no way assured of winning a second term next fall, so she probably doesn’t want to hand her eventual GOP challenger even more ammunition by lashing herself to Joe Biden and his employer mandate for vaccinations. Kansas still has plenty of vaccine hesitancy and one of the lower vaccination rates at barely 53%. If Kelly wants to hold onto her job, she no doubt realizes that she can’t be seen as coming down too hard on any authoritarian mandates. If she does, she might be adding to her state’s unemployment numbers in 2023.