HHS Secretary: Kathleen Sebelius

  • Share
  • Read Later
Charlie Riedel / AP

Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius delivers her State of the State address on Jan. 12, 2009, in the statehouse in Topeka, Kan. Sebelius is President Barack Obama's choice for secretary of health and human service.

It's safe to assume Kathleen Sebelius files flawless tax returns. The popular Kansas governor, who will be introduced on Monday as Barack Obama's pick for Secretary of Health and Human Services, steps into the void opened by Tom Daschle's withdrawal from the role amid revelations that he failed to pay some $128,000 in taxes—the latest in an embarrassing series of tax snafus involving Obama's Cabinet nominees. An early convert to the Obama camp and a nascent star in the Democratic party, Sebelius' success guiding a deep-red heartland state vaulted her onto the short list of candidates for the vice-presidential nomination last summer. Though she is widely respected for her administrative skills and bipartisan maneuvering, she is also a Washington newcomer who must navigate a sprawling 65,000-employee bureaucracy facing budget woes and reeling from recent food safety scandals. Sebelius would become one of Obama's point people on the effort to reshape the U.S. health-care system, but she may first be forced to weather a confirmation fight over her support for abortion rights.

(Read "All the Presidents Men and Women")

Fast Facts:

• Born in 1948 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sebelius earned a bachelor's degree from Washington, D.C.'s Trinity College and a master's in public administration from the University of Kansas in 1977

• Her husband, Gary Sebelius, is a federal magistrate judge. (His father, Keith Sebelius, was a prominent Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives.) The couple has two sons, Ned and John.

• Served as executive director of the Kansas Trial Lawyers Association before winning election to the state's House of Representatives in 1986. In 1994, she left the legislature to become Kansas' insurance commissioner, a post she held for eight years

•Sebelius was elected governor of Kansas — a state in which registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by a nearly 2-to-1 margin — in 2002. After a first term in which she helped boost education spending while deftly paring a $1.1 billion budget deficit, she won re-election four years later

• Sebelius boasts a unique political pedigree: She is one-half of the nation's first father-daughter gubernatorial combo. Her father, John Gilligan, served as Ohio's chief executive in the 1970s.

• TIME named Sebelius one of the country's Five Best Governors in 2005.

• A Roman Catholic, Sebelius supports abortion rights, a position for which she was assailed by a local archbishop and asked not to take communion

• She has taken a moderate line on gun control, supporting citizens' right to own guns but issuing a 2004 veto of a bill that would have allowed Kansans to carry concealed weapons

• Delivered the official Democratic Party response to the 2008 State of the Union Address, an honor that underscored her ascendancy within its ranks

• Is not expected, as Daschle was, to assume the role of White House health czar on top of her Cabinet responsibilities

Quotes About:

• "She has an excellent mind, she makes decisions carefully and well, and her obvious empathy for the plight in which so many Americans find themselves will serve them and our country well."
Gov. Phil Bredesen of Tennessee, hailing Sebelius as an "absolutely first-rate" selection for the health and human services post.
New York Times, Feb. 28, 2009

• "A very smart choice...She has a good intellect, a big heart and tremendous expertise. As a blue governor in a red state, she also has lots of experience working across the political aisle."
Karen M. Ignagni, president of America's Health Insurance Plans. New York Times, Feb. 19, 2009

• "This is setting up a confrontation that pro-life Catholics will not walk away from."
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, criticizing Sebelius' stance on abortion amid early rumors of her being considered for the post. Feb. 19, 2009

Quotes By:

• "Abortion is a personal decision made by a woman in consultation with her doctor, her family and her clergy. While my beliefs teach me that abortion is morally unacceptable, as a public official, I have worked hard to ensure that abortions are rare, safe and within the bounds of the law."
Responding to the claim, made by a conservative religious group, that she is "the most rabidly pro-abortion governor in the country."
Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2009

• "An out-of-body experience."
Describing the tide of media attention surrounding her consideration as a potential vice-presidential nominee.
Topeka Capital Journal, Aug. 22, 2008

• "I came in and the state was broke, lots of people were out of work, and there was lots of hand-wringing about how we could move forward. Having turned the state around and now being back in positive times is a pivotal moment that allows us to move forward and do better things."
On her gubernatorial achievements. Harvard Political Review, May 29, 2007

Read "Who Will Push Healthcare Reform in Place of Daschle?"
Read TIME's Review of Sebelius' 2008 Democratic Convention Speech