Dis­pute among law­mak­ers splits south-cen­tral Kansas del­e­ga­tion

The Wichita Eagle - - News - BY DION LEFLER dle­[email protected]­chi­taea­gle.com

An or­ga­ni­za­tion in­tended to give south­cen­tral Kansas a uni­fied voice in the Leg­is­la­ture got off to a di­vided start for the up­com­ing ses­sion af­ter a par­ti­san bat­tle over who would lead it.

For the first time in its his­tory, the South Cen­tral Kansas Leg­isla­tive Del­e­ga­tion will head to Topeka next week with­out a leader for the open­ing of the an­nual ses­sion.

That came af­ter a heated de­bate over whether enough mem­bers showed up Thurs­day to se­lect a chair and vice chair — and ac­cu­sa­tions that Repub­li­cans could be try­ing to steal the lead po­si­tion from the Democrats, who are due to have one of their mem­bers ro­tate into it this year.

As things stand now, the se­lec­tion of del­e­ga­tion lead­ers will hap­pen at the group’s first meet­ing at the State­house in Topeka. The date and place of that meet­ing is yet to be de­ter­mined.

The vote to de­lay was recorded as a 16-6 split along par­ti­san lines. About half the mem­bers of the del­e­ga­tion at­tended the meet­ing where the vote was taken.

Sen. Ty Master­son, an An­dover Repub­li­can, pro­posed the de­lay in choos­ing the group’s lead­ers, say­ing he wanted mem­bers who couldn’t come Thurs­day to have a voice in the se­lec­tion.

“Then ev­ery­body’s par­tic­i­pat­ing,” he said. “You want as many peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in the process as pos­si­ble.”

Fel­low Repub­li­can Blake Car­pen­ter, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Derby, then ex­panded Master­son’s mo­tion to have the del­e­ga­tion choose its lead­ers in Topeka ev­ery year.

The plan drew a heated re­sponse from Demo­cratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wi­chita. She said if the ab­sent mem­bers wanted to vote, they should have come to the meet­ing.

“That does not ride with me any­more of say­ing other mem­bers aren’t here,” she said. “Well hell, I’m here and that’s part of our du­ties once we are elected. . . I could be home pack­ing, I could be spend­ing time with my daugh­ters, I could be do­ing a va­ri­ety of things, but I’m here.”

Master­son replied that it was a lot eas­ier for FaustGoudeau to come to the meet­ing than it is for oth­ers, be­cause it was in her neigh­bor­hood at Wi­chita State Univer­sity.

“With all due re­spect, Oletha, not ev­ery­body lives in this dis­trict,” he said.

Rep. John Carmichael, a Wi­chita Demo­crat, said it looked like the Repub­li­cans were ma­neu­ver­ing to keep the Democrats from chair­ing the del­e­ga­tion.

“We had that bat­tle two years ago and four years ago,” Carmichael said. “Four years ago we aban­doned the prac­tice of bi­par­ti­san­ship and two years ago we de­cided that wasn’t a good idea and we said let’s put it back . . . so we ro­tate (the chair) on a bi­par­ti­san ba­sis.

“I un­der­stand from what the good se­na­tor (Master­son) said that per­haps he might want to take that up and maybe change that rule when we get back into ses­sion . . . . We don’t need to do that.”

Rep. Henry Hel­ger­son, a Demo­crat who’s been in the Leg­is­la­ture off and on since the 1980s, tried to defuse the sit­u­a­tion by re­mind­ing the oth­ers of the his­tory and pur­pose of the del­e­ga­tion.

“It was all done with the idea of try­ing to be uni­fied and work­ing to­gether in or­der to be more ef­fec­tive for all of our sides, Demo­crat, Repub­li­can, Sedg­wick County and the area around us,” Hel­ger­son said. “I am con­cerned that my friends at both ta­bles, we are di­vid­ing our­selves be­fore we’ve even been sworn in.

“I would sug­gest that we all take a step back,” he added. “If we end up di­vid­ing our­selves right now, it’s go­ing to be a long ses­sion.”

There is prece­dent for Repub­li­cans break­ing ro­ta­tion so more of their mem­bers could serve as chair.

It hap­pened in 2015 when the Repub­li­cans re­jected the ro­ta­tion sys­tem and passed what came to be called the “Brunk rule” af­ter thenRep. Steve Brunk, who pro­posed it.

Un­der the Brunk rule, Repub­li­cans could use their su­pe­rior num­bers to se­lect one of their own as del­e­ga­tion chair ev­ery year.

The rule was dropped in 2017 and Rep. Bran­don Whip­ple, a Demo­crat, served as chair­man that year.

And in 2018, the top job ro­tated back to Repub­li­cans on sched­ule with Sen. Gene Suel­len­trop as chair and Demo­cratic Rep. Ponka-We Vic­tors as vicechair.

Nei­ther Suel­len­trop nor Vic­tors were at Thurs­day’s meet­ing.

Suel­len­trop had ar­ranged for Rep. Susan Humphries to chair the meet­ing be­cause he couldn’t at­tend due to an­other com­mit­ment. Vic­tors was be­ing treated for a wrist in­jury and was at the hos­pi­tal Thurs­day, Carmichael an­nounced.

I WOULD SUG­GEST THAT WE ALL TAKE A STEP BACK. IF WE END UP DI­VID­ING OUR­SELVES RIGHT NOW, IT’S GO­ING TO BE A LONG SES­SION. Rep. Henry Hel­ger­son

DION LEFLER The Wi­chita Ea­gle

Reps. Susan Humphries and John Carmichael ar­gue over rules at a lun­cheon meet­ing of the South Cen­tral Kansas Leg­isla­tive Del­e­ga­tion.

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