Born on January 24, 1950, in New York City, Kelly belongs to a military family that moved often and was stationed overseas.
The 72-year-old studied at Bradley University, earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology, and at Indiana University, earning a Master of Science in therapeutic recreation. She received the Bradley University Distinguished Alumna award and was inducted into Bradley’s Centurion Society on October 4, 2021. She was executive director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association.
Kelly was elected to the Kansas Senate in November 2004, later serving as Minority Whip. She represented the 18th district in the Kansas Senate from 2005 to 2019.
In 2007, she was given the offer to serve Ranking Minority member of the Kansas Ways and Means Committee. Kelly helped to establish the Early Childhood Development Block Grants program in the State of Kansas.
In late 2009, she briefly considered a run for Kansas’s 2nd congressional district.
During the 2011–2012 legislative sessions, she served as the Assistant Minority Leader of the Kansas Senate. Kelly ran for governor in the 2018 election. In the Democratic primary she ran against former mayor of Wichita Carl Brewer and former Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty. On May 24, 2018, she announced State Senator Lynn Rogers as her running mate. On August 7, she defeated Brewer and Svaty.
Then-Kansas Governor Bill Graves said that, “Laura Kelly is the only Democrat I have ever endorsed for public office. And the reason I’m doing that now is because I believe so much is at stake in the state of Kansas. I have known Laura for over 30 years. She has all the qualities and all the capabilities that we are looking for to lead the state during this difficult time and to reestablish the state to what it once was. … Laura has integrity, and I know she will bring Kansans together regardless of party to solve problems.”
On November 6, Kelly defeated the Republican nominee, Secretary of State Kris Kobach, receiving 47.8% of the vote.
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On December 23, 2020, she declared her candidacy for reelection in 2022 in a podcast with the Kansas Reflector.