Legislative Leadership is bad news for Kansas

This past Monday, the Kansas Legislature chose their leadership teams for the upcoming Legislative Session. Each party broke into caucus and voted, with the Republicans in the majority, they selected the leaders who will set the agenda for the term, and drive much of what gets debated and voted on. The 2020 election saw very conservative individuals oust some centrists at the state level, and this bodes poorly for the priorities shared by most Kansans.

At the top

The most influential positions in the Kansas Legislature are at the top of the leadership structure. In the Senate, the Senate President and the Majority Leader. In the House, these would be the Speaker and the Majority Leader. While there were no significant changes in the House, the Senate became even more aligned with extreme conservative positions.

Here is the outlook, using our *M scores from our voting scorecards. Higher percentages indicate more alignment with Mainstream's positions.

The Kansas Senate has new leadership at the top with the retiring of Sen. Susan Wagle and Sen. Jim Denning. At the top are now Senate President Ty Masterson (*M 0%) and Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop (*M 5%). Their team is comprised of Sens. Wilborn (*M 16%), Alley (*M 0%), and Hilderbrand (*M 8%), for an all male, all white group that averages a *M score of just 5.8%.

Sen. Ty Masterson Sen. Gene Suellentrop Sen. Rick Wilborn Sen. Larry Alley Sen. Richard Hilderbrand

The Kansas House of Representatives is once again being led by Speaker Ron Ryckman (*M 15%) and Majority Leader Dan Hawkins (*M 15%). Along with Reps. Finch (*M 33%), Mason (*M 4%), B. Carpenter (*M 2%), and Rahjes (*M 18%), they make another all male, all white leadership group that averages a *M score of 14.5%.

Rep. Ron Ryckman Rep. Dan Hawkins Rep. Blaine Finch Rep. Les Mason Rep. Blake Carpenter Rep. Ken Rahjes

By contrast, the Minority Leadership team across both chambers is evenly divided by gender, and includes diversity in race and sexual orientation. The Senate team is being led by Sen. Dinah Sykes (*M 100%), a former Republican, backed by Sens. Faust-Goudeau (*M 100%), Pettey (*M 100%), Pittman (*M 81%), and Francisco (*M 100%).

Sen. Dinah Sykes Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau Sen. Pat Pettey Sen. Jeff Pittman Sen. Marci Francisco

The House Minority leadership is headed up once again by Rep. Tom Sawyer (100%), with Reps. Probst (*M 91%), Clayton (*M 100%), Woodard (*M 100%), Ballard (*M 96%), and Xu (*M 100%).

Rep. Tom Sawyer Rep. Jason Probst Rep. Stephanie Clayton Rep. Brandon Woodard Rep. Barbara Ballard Rep. Rui Xu

You may look at those numbers and think you know the story: the Kansas Legislature is just as polarized as the country. And yet, there are only eight Senators (out of 40) who score as low as the Senate Leadership average. (6 incoming Sens have no voting record.) In the House, only 37 Representatives (out of 125) score lower than their Leadership team's average. (27 incoming Reps have no voting record.)

The Republican party in the Legislature is not nearly as conservative as their leadership. But that won't make a difference this year.

Why does Leadership matter?

As we've seen in the past few years, Leadership has considerable power to prevent measures from being worked, or to influence their construction in committees. Loading influential committees with loyalists is not unusual, albeit an obvious ploy. But even more starkly, last year Leadership adamantly refused to bring to the floor measures that had bipartisan support, like expanding Medicaid.

Essentially, even when the will of the body—and of the constituents that elected them—is in favor of a particular policy, Leadership can prevent that policy from becoming law if they wish.

In addition, Leadership can influence voting among the members of their chamber by withholding or dangling positions of power, committee chairs, for example, or by threatening election season primaries or postcards. In a year when the Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers, every vote will be important to overriding any vetoes by Governor Laura Kelly, and Leadership will leave no stone unturned to keep their caucus together.

Expect no action on Medicaid expansion. Expect immediate and swift action on an amendment to remove from the Constitution the right of Kansas women to make their own decisions about pregnancy and health. Expect cuts to the funding or operation of our public schools, with the excuse of pandemic-related economic woes. Expect tax cuts for the wealthiest Kansans despite those economic woes, under the guise of supporting "job creators." Expect "freedom" for gun owners, but not freedom from the imposition of one religious morality. Expect Kansas lives to continue to be sacrificed in this pandemic for the greater good of the economy. Expect a redistricting process that disenfranchises voters.

It's a grim outlook, and it will be a grind for those, like you, who are informed on the issues and vote regularly.

But our community of advocates, activists, and voters is already pulling together around the issues most important to all of us, and we'll be in the fight regardless. We're meeting with partners and legislators right now to outline our shared priorities and strategies. We'll be attending to the Legislature's moves, and get back to you. We will give you the opportunity to connect, debate, and drive the conversation forward with your legislators, your community, and us.

We can't do it without you.

Thank you for doing more than voting,

Danny Novo
Communications Director

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published this page in Blog 2020-12-10 12:19:32 -0600
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