Kansas lawmakers convene to name new leaders

Posted at 6:49 PM, Dec 05, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-05 19:49:31-05

Kansas lawmakers and lawmakers-elect have convened to designate their leaders for next year with House Republicans set to pick a new speaker.

Republicans and Democrats in each chamber were meeting separately Monday after the House and Senate convened.

House Republicans were designating a new speaker because incumbent Ray Merrick of Stilwell did not seek re-election to the Legislature this year.

Seeking the post were Appropriations Committee Chairman Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe and Rep. Russ Jennings of Lakin. Ryckman is a conservative and Jennings is a moderate.

The new speaker will serve a two-year term.

Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita asked fellow GOP senators for another four-year term as leader. She is a conservative, but Senate budget chairman Ty Masterson of Andover was challenging her from the right.

11:05 a.m.

Republicans in the Kansas House have picked conservative Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe as speaker for the next two years.

Ryckman prevailed Monday over moderate Rep. Russ Jennings of Lakin in a 57-28 vote among GOP representatives and representatives-elect. Ryckman is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

The vote suggested that conservatives still control the Republican majority in the House despite losses in this year's elections.

Democrats will hold 40 seats in the 125-member House when lawmakers open their next session in January, and the vote suggests moderates could form coalitions with moderate Republicans.

But Ryckman's supporters described him as a pragmatist who can work with lawmakers of all philosophies. Ryckman helped broker a bipartisan deal on school funding legislation during a special session in June.

11:25 a.m.

Republicans in the Kansas House have elected one of the chamber's most visible GOP moderates as their new majority leader after naming a conservative as their new speaker.

Rep. Don Hineman of Dighton prevailed over more conservative Rep. John Barker of Abilene in a 44-41 vote Monday among GOP representatives and representatives-elect.

Hineman was first elected to the House in 2008, and he's been a vocal critic of Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's tax policies. The state has struggled to balance its budget since GOP lawmakers slashed income taxes in 2012 and 2013 at Brownback's urging in an effort to stimulate the economy.

But the vote for Hineman came after House Republicans designated conservative Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. of Olathe as the speaker for the next two years. Ryckman is Appropriations Committee chairman.

11:50 a.m.

Republicans are giving Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle a second four-year term in the leadership post.

The Wichita Republican easily overcame a challenge Monday from Ways and Means Committee Chairman Ty Masterson of Andover. The vote was 23-7 among GOP senators and senators-elect, with one of the 31 abstaining.

Both Wagle and Masterson are conservatives. But Wagle has been willing to break with Republican Gov. Sam Brownback on tax and budget policy, while Masterson has been a reliable Brownback ally.

The full Senate must ratify the GOP's decision when lawmakers open their next session in January.

GOP senators and senators-elect also named Sen. Jim Denning of Overland Park as their new majority leader. Denning has been a vocal critic of Brownback's fiscal policies. Denning had no challenger.

12:35 p.m.

Democrats in the Kansas House have ousted their leader in a move signaling that they'll be more aggressive in criticizing Gov. Sam Brownback and his fellow Republicans.

Democrats on Monday removed Rep. Tom Burroughs of Kansas City as House minority leader even though had a net gain of 12 seats in last month's election. They'll have 40 seats in the 125-member House next year to 85 for Republicans.

Democratic representatives and representatives-elect initially split 20-20 between Burroughs and Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita. But on a second, secret ballot, the vote was 21-19 for Ward.

Ward has been vocal in criticizing Brownback and other Republicans and at times has been more visible than Burroughs.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Anthony Hensley faced no opposition to keeping his leadership job.