Elec­tion shakes up power dy­nam­ics

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN SHORMAN

As Sam Brown­back’s in­ter­est and power in Topeka waned dur­ing his fi­nal months as gov­er­nor, leg­isla­tive lead­ers stepped in to fill the power vac­uum in Topeka.

But when Demo­crat Laura Kelly takes con­trol of the Kansas gov­er­nor’s of­fice in Jan­uary, her pres­ence will shake up a Capi­tol power struc­ture that’s been in place for years.

Un­der Brown­back and Jeff Colyer, Repub­li­cans ex­er­cised ex­tra­or­di­nary power, of­ten muscling bills through the Leg­is­la­ture that hor­ri­fied Democrats.

Those days may be over. Al­though Repub­li­cans still en­joy large ma­jori­ties in both the House and Se­nate, Kelly’s abil­ity to veto leg­is­la­tion will change the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Leg­is­la­ture and the gover- nor’s of­fice.

The power dy­nam­ics will be dif­fer­ent. Repub­li­cans and Democrats will take on new roles dur­ing Kelly’s time in of­fice.

Here’s a look at a few likely power play­ers dur­ing the new ad­min­is­tra­tion.


Democrats in the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture will find them­selves play­ing a key role next year.

Al­though they’re a mi­nor­ity, they will ex­er­cise out­sized in­flu­ence be­cause Kelly oc­cu­pies the gov­er­nor’s of­fice.

For much of the past few years, a ma­jor role of Democrats in the House has been op­pos­ing leg­is­la­tion sought by Brown­back. Through floor speeches, amend­ments and pro­ce­dural ma­neu­ver­ing, they of­ten tried to slow down or change bills.

While some of that will prob­a­bly still take place, they will spend more time try­ing to de­velop com­pro­mise bills that Kelly will sign.

Take, for ex­am­ple, Rep. John Carmichael, a Wi­chita Demo­crat. He of­ten speaks on the House floor and is usu­ally quick to have a col­or­ful comment

about the leg­is­la­tion or news of the day.

But the role of Carmichael — and other Democrats, too — may shift now, af­ter sev­eral years of op­pos­ing Gov. Sam Brown­back’s agenda. There will be more ne­go­ti­a­tions and at­tempts to com­pro­mise on leg­is­la­tion.

Carmichael pre­dicts Kelly’s pres­ence in the gov­er­nor’s of­fice will re­sult in leg­is­la­tion that is over­all more mod­er­ate.

“The role for Democrats will be dif­fer­ent with a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, and quite frankly, I think it places more re­spon­si­bil­ity on Demo­cratic law­mak­ers,” Carmichael said.

On the Se­nate side, Democrats con­tinue to hold nine seats. In that cham­ber, though, the Repub­li­can cau­cus re­mains much more di­vided be­tween mod­er­ate and con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Anthony Hens­ley said nei­ther fac­tion will be able to get the votes needed to pass leg­is­la­tion with­out


Se­nate Pres­i­dent Su­san Wagle, a Wi­chita Repub­li­can, may be Kelly’s sharpest foil.

Wagle, a staunch con­ser­va­tive, is in her last term in the Se­nate and has been a vo­cal voice for con­ser­va­tive bud­get­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture. She seems des­tined to clash with Kelly, who has pro­posed in­creased fund­ing for state ser­vices.

The two have been to­gether in the Se­nate for sev­eral years, but of­ten on op­pos­ing sides.

Wagle pre­dicts Kelly will be a lib­eral spender, and she cast doubt on Kelly’s hopes of ex­pand­ing Med­ic­aid.

“I know a more much more lib­eral Laura Kelly than the peo­ple of Kansas know, since I’ve worked with her for a few years,” Wagle said.

Wagle is promis­ing to act as a check on Kelly, in­clud­ing on ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing af­ter Kelly promised to be “the ed­u­ca­tion gov­er­nor.”

“We have put the lion’s share of state in­come into one bas­ket: K-12,” Wagle said, adding that districts can “barely ab­sorb” the ad­di­tional fund­ing al­ready ap­proved.


House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Repub­li­can, of­ten keeps his cards to close to the vest.

Ryckman and Wagle will be the two most-pow­er­ful Repub­li­can law­mak­ers, but they have some­times taken dif­fer­ent ap­proaches in the past. Ryckman has at times been less out­spo­ken than Wagle, who would clash pub­licly with for­mer Gov. Sam Brown­back.

Ryckman’s qui­eter ap­proach may put him in a po­si­tion to act as a key Repub­li­can ne­go­tia­tor with Kelly. He’ll also be some­one who will help keep tem­pers cool even at times of sharp dis­agree­ment.

Ryckman’s power may be bol­stered be­cause Repub­li­cans picked up a seat in Tues­day’s elec­tions, and the House Repub­li­can cau­cus also be­came more con­ser­va­tive — set­ting up a sig­nif­i­cant check on Kelly.

“Vot­ers know we’ve done the heavy lift­ing to bal­ance the bud­get, re­duce debt, and get the econ­omy go­ing again — peo­ple value the good work we’re do­ing,” Ryckman said in a state­ment.


Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Anthony Hens­ley, a Topeka Demo­crat, will be Kelly’s man in the Se­nate.

Hens­ley, the longest­serv­ing law­maker in the Leg­is­la­ture, has been in the Se­nate since be­fore Kelly joined the Cham­ber in 2005. Though Democrats are in the mi­nor­ity, Hens­ley is a master of the cham­ber’s pro­ce­dures and rules — knowl­edge that he some­times wields to slow down or thwart Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tion.

Hens­ley also has a good work­ing re­la­tion­ship with Se­nate Pres­i­dent Su­san Wagle, a Wi­chita Repub­li­can. He may end up serv­ing as a bridge be­tween Kelly and Wagle.

“I’ve al­ways been able to ne­go­ti­ate Su­san Wagle, she’s a per­sonal friend of mine,” Hens­ley said.


Sen. Carolyn McGinn, a Sedg­wick Repub­li­can, en­tered the Se­nate at the same time as Kelly and has a close work­ing re­la­tion­ship with her. That’s im­por­tant be­cause McGinn chairs the Se­nate’s bud­get com­mit­tee, which will sort through Kelly’s spend­ing pro­pos­als.

“We al­ways had to come to some kind of con­sen­sus com­pro­mise” McGinn said of work­ing with Kelly in the past. Kelly is the high­est-rank­ing Demo­crat on McGinn’s com­mit­tee.

McGinn and Kelly share sim­i­lar views on some bud­get pri­or­i­ties: both want to im­prove road fund­ing, spend more on the Depart­ment for Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies and cut sales tax on food.


Rep. Kathy Wolfe Moore, a Kansas City Demo­crat, is the top Demo­crat on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee. Kelly’s agenda to ex­pand Med­ic­aid, boost ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing and pro­vide ad­di­tional dol­lars to other parts of state govern­ment will al­most cer­tainly have to pass through that com­mit­tee.

As­sum­ing she re­mains in the post, she’ll be Kelly’s top voice on the com­mit­tee and will be in the thick of ne­go­ti­a­tions over spend­ing.

“It’s just go­ing to be dif­fer­ent,” Wolfe Moore said. “Tell you the truth, I’ve had eight years of Sam Brown­back . . . that’s all I’ve known.”

She added later: “It’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent. Dif­fer­ent good.”

Speaker af­ter the elec­tion, Wolfe Moore noted the “mid­dle’s kind of got­ten carved out a bit,” with mod­er­ate Repub­li­cans losses in the 2018 elec­tion cy­cle.

That could make things more po­lar­iz­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture, she said.

Con­tribut­ing: Hunter Woodall and Bryan Lowry of The Star

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