Before yesterday’s election, conservatives in Kansas hopefully thought it might be possible to gain a working majority in the Kansas House of Representatives. The surprising result was a conservative wave larger than any election observer could have foreseen.
Before the election, the party breakdown in the Kansas House was 76 Republicans and 49 Democrats. As 63 votes constitute a majority, it is often said that the House is a conservative body. The reality, however, is that there had been a core of about 55 conservative Republicans, meaning those who would vote against big-spending budgets and tax increases. A coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans — “left-wing Republicans,” as KansasLiberty.com describes them — worked together to pass measures like a big-spending budget, a statewide sales tax increase, and other decidedly non-conservative legislation.
Those days may be over, at least for now.
It appears that Republicans picked up 15 seats in the Kansas House. (Update: The number of Republican gains is 16, for a composition of 92 Republicans and 33 Democrats.) Most of the Republicans who defeated incumbent Democrats ran on an explicit platform of limited government. They can be expected to join the core of 55 conservatives to create a working majority of conservatives in the House — although you never know.
Representative Steve Brunk, who was unopposed in his own reelection, said it was a good night not only for Republicans, but also for those who believe government should live within its means without raising taxes, and for those who believe that money belongs to taxpayers first.
These results represent a major pushback against the statewide sales tax increase championed by Governor Mark Parkinson, who decided not to seek election to the office he holds. The “bipartisan, moderate coalition” that Parkinson often praised is gone, having been soundly rejected by voters.
Some notable results from yesterday include Kansas House District 4 (Fort Scott and areas to its north and west), where Caryn Tyson defeated incumbent Shirley Palmer. Palmer had voted for the big-spending budget this year, but didn’t vote for the sales tax to pay for it.
In Kansas House District 16 (parts of Overland Park and Lenexa), Democrat Gene Rardin had also voted for the budget increase but not the necessary sales tax to pay for it. He was defeated by Amanda Grosserode, who organized the first tea party event in Kansas, although at that time it was billed as a “tax revolt protest.”
In Kansas House District 97 (parts of south and southwest Wichita) incumbent Democrat Dale Swenson ran for the first time as a Democrat, having switched parties last year after representing the district since 1995 as a Republican. He lost to Les Osterman.
In Kansas House District 95 (parts of west and southwest Wichita) Benny Boman, who has run for the office several times before and didn’t even have a campaign website, defeated Melany Barnes, who had been appointed to fill the seat that Tom Sawyer had represented for many years.
Most of the new Republican members of the Kansas House can be expected to join the conservative camp, which should give conservatives a working majority. But how these new members actually behave once in Topeka will have to be observed over time.
After the Democrat/moderate Republican coalition got their way in the last session, there was some talk of a “coalition Speaker” — someone chosen from the moderate Republican camp. This possibility is now gone, and it is certain that the current Speaker, Mike O’Neal, will be reelected to that position without a serious challenge.
The majority leader, however, will likely change. Ray Merrick, the current leader, may be interested in moving to the Senate to replace Jeff Colyer, who will resign to become lieutenant governor. Even if Merrick stays in the House, he is butting up against the customary term limit for majority leader. At last night’s gathering of Republican legislators in Wichita, none were willing to speculate about who is interested in becoming leader, although Arlen Siegfreid, current Speaker Pro Tem, is mentioned as in the running. Richard Carlson and John Grange are two other names mentioned as interested in this position.
House Republican leadership also will select a new chair of the powerful Appropriations committee to replace Kevin Yoder, who is moving on to the U.S Congress.
Other important committees in the House of Representatives that may see changes in their chairs include Taxation, should Richard Carlson become Majority Leader, and Commerce and Labor, should Brunk become Speaker Pro Tem. Federal and State Affairs was chaired by Melvin Neufeld, who was defeated in his bid for reelection.
The House will meet on the first Monday in December to elect their leadership.
The next legislature will also draw the new district boundaries during the redistricting process.