For Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, the problem was simple. "There were too many cars in the parking lot," she says. Right after the Democrat surprised political experts in 2002 by winning the Governor's race in a state where Republicans outnumber Democrats almost 2 to 1, she needed to erase a budget deficit estimated at $1.1 billion. A commission that Sebelius appointed to find government waste discovered that the state owned hundreds of cars it didn't use. So she sold 700 of them and forbade state agencies to buy more.
The money earned from the car sale was small, but it showed that the new Governor was determined to find savings anywhere she could, from having all state agencies join together to bid for computers to asking state housekeeping workers to wear their own pants instead of government-issued ones. Through spending cuts, fee increases and some borrowing, Sebelius was able to balance Kansas' budget in her first year in office without raising taxes or cutting funding for education.
Republicans dominate both houses of the Kansas legislature, but the divide between the party's conservatives and its moderates is so stark that Kansas effectively has three political parties. Sebelius, 57, has deftly exploited that. After a court ordered the state to increase its spending on education by about $150 million this year, she persuaded moderates to join her in a compromise plan to comply with the decision. That deal left conservatives without the votes to push through a constitutional amendment they sought to effectively overrule the court's edict. To get G.O.P. backing for her proposals, she has appointed several Republicans to her cabinet, including former Governor Mike Hayden, who serves as secretary of wildlife and parks.
Her bipartisan credentials have long been burnished by her relationship with Keith Sebelius, a veteran Kansas Republican Congressman; she is married to his son Gary, a federal magistrate judge. Her father John Gilligan was Governor of Ohio in the 1970s, making the pair the first ever father-daughter combination of Governors. But it was her married name that helped Sebelius rise from state legislator to insurance commissioner and then Governor. With an approval rating near 60%, she is now popular in her own right--so popular that a number of high-profile Kansas Republicans have decided against challenging her when she runs for re-election next year.