By Dave Ranney
KHI News Service
TOPEKA — Rob Siedlecki answered Gov. Sam Brownback’s call to lead the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, because he believes in Brownback.
Siedlecki oversees the Larned State Hospital as secretary of SRS.
“I’m excited to work for a governor who has ideas, who’s committed to those ideas and who is willing to champion those ideas both in the Legislature and out in the public,” Siedlecki told KHI News Service.
“He (Brownback) really lives what he preaches,” Siedlecki said. “He and his wife have adopted two children. He’s a humble man, a real leader.”
He’s also the state’s first conservative Republican governor. Siedlecki said SRS will be launching initiatives often touted by conservatives: strengthening marriage, encouraging adoption, and promoting fatherhood.
Siedlecki said SRS will be reaching out to faith-based groups that in the past may have been reluctant to interact with state government.
Siedlecki, 42, graduated from Harvard University in 1991, earning a bachelor’s degree in Slavic languages and literature.
“I’d thought for a while about being a diplomat to Eastern Europe,” Siedlecki said.
Instead, Siedlecki earned a law degree from Cornell University in 1995.
During President George W. Bush’s first year in office, Siedlecki accepted a “political appointment” to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, serving as a special assistant to the assistant secretary over programs for children and families.
That’s where he met Brownback, who, at the time, was in the U.S. Senate.
“He carried a lot of our initiatives in the Senate,” Siedlecki said.
Brownback, he said, was seen as a leading proponent for legislation meant to promote healthy marriages.
In 2005, Siedlecki returned to Florida to run for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives. He lost. A year later, Siedlecki, who is Catholic, returned to Washington, D.C., accepting a position as senior counsel with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Task Force on Faith-based Initiatives.
“I was there until (Barack) Obama,” Siedlecki said.
He returned to Florida, becoming chief of staff at the Florida Department of Health, helping manage 17,000 employees and a $3 billion budget. SRS has a $1.7 billion budget and roughly 6,000 employees.
“I want to work with everyone,” Siedlecki said. “I want to say to people, ‘This is what we have to work with, show me how we can do better.’ I want to see what other states are doing. I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.”