Less than a month after growing their caucus by 12 members, Kansas House Democrats have ousted their leader in favor of a more aggressive and liberal leader.
Democrats voted 21-19 to elect Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) over Minority Leader Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City). The election comes two years after Burroughs narrowly defeated Ward for the top spot in the Democratic caucus. The win caps a two year divide in the caucus between supporters of both men.
Ward’s election elevates one of the most aggressive Democrats in the Kansas Legislature to the leadership in a session that is expected to focus on budget, taxes and education funding. Ward, the top Democrat on the House Health and Human Services Committee, has been a top advocate for the Medicaid expansion in Kansas and has been known for a combative style in committee and floor debates.
Ward’s push for the Medicaid expansion included offering several floor amendments in an attempt to push the issue to a vote. In addition, Ward attempted to place the expansion on to a bill in the Children and Seniors Committee. Ward’s attempts to bring a full floor vote on the Medicaid expansion were thrawted on several occasions by Republican leaders.
Ward’s election shifts power in the Democratic caucus from Burroughs and a leadership very centered on the I-70 corridor between Kansas City and Topeka to the Wichita area. Ward joins Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) as a legislative leader from Kansas’ largest city.
Rep. Stan Frownfelter (D-Kansas City) was elected assistant minority leader, replacing Rep. Louis Ruiz (D-Kansas City), who withdrew from race. Rep. Adam Lusker (D-Fronteac) was elected Democratic policy chairman, replacing Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence), who did not seek a second term in the leadership post. Minority Whip Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield), Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Barbara Ballard (D-Lawrence) and Democratic Agenda Chairman Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) were all reelected to their posts.