House moves to the right in GOP leadership races

The Kansas House Republican Caucus moved to the right with the election Monday of conservative Rep. Dan Hawkins as majority leader. That could make it more difficult for resolution of the school finance litigation and expanding health care to low-income Kansans. 

Hawkins, of Wichita, has been an adamant opponent of expanding Medicaid and conservative Republicans in the House have been resistant to school funding increases prompted by Kansas Supreme Court decisions. As majority leader, he will be instrumental in committee assignments and the movement of legislation. 

Gov.-elect Laura Kelly has said she wants to satisfy a ruling from the Kansas Supreme Court to provide an inflation adjustment to the current school finance plan. Such an adjustment would require $364 million over four years, according to the State Board of Education. Kelly also wants to expand Medicaid. 

Hawkins unseated the current majority leader, Don Hineman of Dighton, who was considered a moderate Republican.  

The switch was expected because conservative Republicans gained strength in the GOP primary by defeating a half a dozen moderates and in the general election by knocking off several Democrats. 

Hawkins defeated Hineman in a vote of Republicans 48-35. The vote suggests that passing legislation, which requires at least 63 votes in the 125-member House, will require some combination of the three major groups: conservative Republicans, moderate Republicans and Democrats. It is important to stress not all legislators always vote with their usual group. 

House Speaker Ron Ryckman of Olathe was overwhelmingly approved to lead for two more years. Rep. Blaine Finch of Ottawa was elected Speaker pro team over Kyle Hoffman of Coldwater to succeed Scott Schwab, who was elected secretary of state. The remaining GOP leadership posts are: Les Mason of McPherson, assistant majority leader; Susan Humphries of Wichita, caucus chair and Blake Carpenter of Derby, caucus whip. 

Democrats also saw a change in leadership as Rep. Tom Sawyer replaced House Minority Leader Jim Ward on a 24-16 vote. Sawyer is seen by some as less confrontational than Ward. Both legislators are from Wichita. House Democrats also elected Valdenia Winn of Kansas City as assistant minority leader to replace Stan Frownfelter. The remaining Democratic leadership posts are: Jim Gartner of Topeka, minority whip; Eileen Horn, of Lawrence, caucus policy chair; Barbara Ballard of Lawrence, caucus chair and Brett Parker of Overland Park, agenda chair.

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