Earlier today, the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka chose their leadership for the upcoming legislative session. The Republicans, with a majority in the House of 85 to 40, have chosen Rep. Ron Ryckman, who sports a 0% score on our vote count. Twenty eight Republicans voted for the other candidate, 57 for Ryckman.
In the Senate, Susan Wagle (0%) was re-elected as Senate President, by a wide margin over Ty Masterson (0%).
At first blush, this looks like a terrible result. The legislature will be led by two legislators who voted 0% for the values moderate Kansans support. But then you begin to look further down the list of leadership positions.
No other member of the House majority leadership has a 0% score. One, Rep. Scott Schwab, is at 13%. The rest are solidly in the moderate Republican fold, and some like Rep. Tom Phillips or Rep. Don Hineman, who was elected to the second most important position, Majority Leader, are firm moderates. In the Senate, Sen. Wagle and Sen. Jim Denning scored 0%, but the rest bring their score up, especially Sen. Vicki Schmidt, with 86%, who won over Sen. Julia Lynn (0%) by a wide margin. See a breakdown of the numbers below.
What does this mean?
It means that when the legislative leadership comes together to work, to guide policy, and to react to the Governor's proposals, moderate voices will be right there at the table. It cannot be overstated how big a shift this is. In the previous session, the entire leadership teams, in both chambers, mustered less than a 5% average on our score card. This year's moderate leaders will be backed by significant gains in each of their chambers, the Senate is deadlocked at 20-20, but the House counts around 65 moderate and Democrat votes to 55 more conservative votes. The Democrats chose leadership that will push for the changes Kansans want, and the new moderate Republican leadership will work with them to accomplish those goals.
It means that the Kansas Legislature has turned. Not the corner, not yet, but Kansas voters have propelled them that direction. You have.
Your calls, your involvement, your conversations, and your votes have done this. Thank you, from all of us.
So what can we expect in 2017?
For legislation this year, the scene is still murky. Almost a billion more dollars could be required to get through these next two years. Any changes to tax laws will not take effect in time to alleviate this shortfall. While Wagle and Ryckman have spoken openly about working with their new chambers, the decisions will be difficult.
The Speaker of the House has enormous powers to bless or kill bills. It likely means that any legislative rollback of Brownback's policies will entail feel-good approaches like eliminating the LLC tax exemption "loophole." Expect to hear a lot about this "loophole," but remember, it was an explicit part of the plan when originally passed in 2012. And while a repeal may reap as much as $300 million, Kansas needs much more than that to get out of the hole.
It also bodes poorly for the tobacco settlement money Kansas receives annually for early childhood programs. The sales of those rights could net a one-time windfall of about $400 million. Brownback has indicated previously his desire to do this, and has kept silent about his planned budget for this year. Observers expect the tobacco settlement sale to be front and center among his proposals. But eliminating funding for those programs will only continue to hurt Kansans.
And finally, it likely means that any new school finance plan will have to meet leadership's requirements before getting a chance to come to a vote. While the votes may be present in the House itself to prevent bad legislation (or pass good bills) the leadership can hold that vote hostage to get what it wants.
Brownback is decidedly unpopular, and despite his veto pen, a notable lame duck the next two years. But what leadership will do remains to be seen.
This is why MainStream will work hard this Spring, to hold legislators accountable, to support those voting in line with the will of Kansans, and yes, to work across party lines to make the best of this situation. There is no question that moderate values will get a stronger hearing this year. But there is still work to be done, now, and in 2018, to right the ship.
MainStream will keep you informed, will advocate for shared moderate values, and will work to bring about this change. We could use your help to expand our efforts:
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Kansas Leadership Results
In the end, here is how the leadership votes went, along with the voting scorecard values of the new leaders. Lower scores are more in line with Brownback's policy positions.
Kansas House of Representatives
- Speaker - Ron Ryckman (R) 0%
- Speaker Pro Tem - Scott Schwab (R) 13%
- Majority Leader - Don Hineman (R) 75%
- Asst. Majority Leader - Tom Phillips (R) 86%
- Majority Whip - Kent Thompson (R) 43%
- Majority Caucus Chair - Susan Concannon (R) 67%
That's an average of 47%. Previous majority leadership was 5%.
- Minority Leader - Jim Ward (D) 100%
- Asst. Minority Leader - Stan Frownfelter (D) 86%
- Minority Whip - Ed Trimmer (D) 100%
- Minority Caucus Chair - Barbara Ballard (D) 100%
- Minority Agenda Chair - Brandon Whipple (D) 83%
- Minority Policy Chair - Adam Lusker (D) 86%
- President - Susan Wagle (R) 0%
- Vice President - Jeff Longbine (R) 33%
- Majority Leader - Jim Denning (R) 0%
- Asst. Majority Leader - Vicki Schmidt (R) 83%
- Majority Whip - Elaine Bowers (R) 50%
Average is 33%. Previous majority leadership was exactly 0%.
- Minority Leader - Anthony Hensley (D) 100%
- Asst. Minority Leader - Laura Kelly (D) 83%
- Minority Whip - Oletha Faust-Goudeau (D) 100%
- Agenda Chair - Marci Francisco (D) 100%
- Caucus Chair - Tom Hawk (D) 100%
The nuclear option
We should explain this, as you'll hear it the next few weeks. The so-called "nuclear option" in the KS House: when the full House votes to confirm the leadership roles in January, there could be a split among the Republicans and those twenty-eight moderate voters to side with the forty Democrats (making 68, 63 is a majority in the 125 member House) to reject Ryckman and select another leader. That other could be a Democrat, or a moderate Republican. This tactic was explicitly rejected by Rep. Russ Jennings, who ran against Ryckman. It is a very unlikely gambit, and many politicians are uncomfortable with it. We don't expect it to happen, but know that some of our supporters are curious.