By John Celock
St. John farmer Greg Lewis was elected Thursday night to fill a vacant seat in the Kansas House of Representatives defeating a former lawmaker.
Lewis defeated former Rep. Marshall Christmann (R-Lyons) 65-16 in a special convention of Republican Party committee members from the 113th district, which encompasses five counties in rural central Kansas. Lewis succeeds former Rep. J. Basil Dannebohm (R-Ellinwood), who resigned in late February due to health reasons after serving 42 days. Lewis will complete the remainder of Dannebohm’s term, which expires in January 2017. Christmann held the seat for two years before giving it up to unsuccessfully seek a state Senate seat last year.
“I think he’ll do a really good job,” Rice County Republican Party Chairwoman Pam Minnix told The Celock Report about Lewis. “He had talked to everyone, either called on them or visited them. He did his homework in far as working this district. “
Minnix noted that Christmann also held meet and greets with party committee members in the weeks since Dannebohm’s resignation.
Lewis is a former school board member in St. John. During the convention he stressed his commitment to rural issues, according to Minnix and state Republican Party executive director Clay Barker, who chaired the convention on behalf of local party members.
Barker said that the exact date of Lewis’ swearing in has not been set. He said that GOP officials in the district will overnight express the letter of Lewis’ election to Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R). Under state law Kobach will then forward the information to Gov. Sam Brownback (R), who will then have seven days to officially appoint Lewis. If Brownback does not act within seven days, Lewis’ appointment will become official.
Lewis and his wife are scheduled to leave on a church mission trip that he committed to over a year ago and he is likely to be sworn-in after his return. Lewis explained to those at the convention that he could not get out of the mission trip.
Minnix said that during the convention Lewis and Christmann addressed a series of issues including education and the proposed new tax system on farmland and farm equipment. She said that Lewis expressed opposition to the farm tax proposal, which has been greeted with hostility by many in rural Kansas.
On the bill to replace the state’s current school funding formula with a block grant – that is pending before the state House – Lewis said he is studying the issue but expressed concern with the speed being used to enact the bill. The block grant legislation was first proposed last week and is slated for a final House vote Friday. Brownback first proposed the issue in January.
Barton County Republican Party committeewoman Linda Borror told The Celock Report that Lewis was asked about Common Core during the convention. She said that he is doing more research into the issue but noted that parents he has spoken to want to do away with the controversial education program, while teachers and school administrators are not ready to move away from it immediately.
Minnix noted that Lewis has talked to schools superintendents across the district as part of his tour during the run-up to the convention.
Lewis’ decisive defeat of Christmann deals a blow to the former lawmaker’s political career. Christmann served one term in the House, succeeding former Rep. Lorraine Bethell (R-Alden) in 2013. A former local judge, Christmann unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination in a special election for a state Senate seat last year. Replaced by Dannebohm, Christmann served as chief of staff to his successor.
Lewis becomes the district’s fifth representative in three years. Former Rep. Robert Bethell (R-Alden) died in office in 2012 and was succeeded by his widow, Lorraine, who did not seek a full term that year.
The two were also asked if they would live in Topeka during the legislative session. Christmann had encountered criticism from some for his practice of commuting daily between Lyons and Topeka during his tenure, a roughly two and half-hour trip one way. Minnix said that Lewis stressed that his recent changes he made to his farming operation would allow him to dedicate himself to the January to May legislative session in Topeka.
‘He reiterated that this was perfect timing for him since he has sold off his cow calf operations and has the winter open when is slower on the farm,” he said. “He can go to Topeka and be a full time legislator and be up there.”