Gov. Laura Kelly trumpeted her support for state workers and efforts to improve agency leadership during an appreciation event for government employees Wednesday at the Statehouse.
"I know these have been challenging times," Kelly said. "I don't have to tell you how deeply the workforce was cut in Kansas agencies. Often, they were cut to the point where you were just trying to get by and keep your heads above water. I know that feeling, and I hate that feeling. And I'm committed to changing it."
Kelly, a Democrat, said the decimation of state services was a factor in her decision to run for governor. Supply-side tax cuts favored by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback presented yearly budget challenges for the state.
When Kelly submitted her proposed budget in January, she asked for a pay raise for state employees. They will get a 2.5 percent increase under the budget adopted by lawmakers. Kelly also noted that one of her first actions as governor was to sign an executive order protecting LGBTQ state employees from discrimination.
Kelly told employees she believes in public service, "and I believe in you."
"And did I mention I appointed leaders who are actually qualified for their jobs?" Kelly said.
The governor shook hands and took photos with employees of the quarter from various agency departments.
The message of appreciation resonated with Oscar Gomez, who works as a chaplain at the state prison in Hutchinson.
"The job that we do as correctional staff is very important for the state," Gomez said. "Our commitment to the public, to keep the incarcerated people where they belong but also to reform them — as a chaplain I do a lot of stuff to try to get them better so they go back to society with a different mind and a different heart."
Sean Christie, a program analyst for the state's juvenile justice system, said it was "pretty cool" to greet the governor and take part in the event. Christie is a New Zealand native who has been in the United States for 13 years, including the past two years in Kansas.
"Pretty overwhelming," Christie said. "Humbling as well. I just expected to come here and work and do my job and go home."