By John Celock
The majority whip of the Kansas House has stepped down, setting up a potentially five-way race to replace him.
Majority Whip Ron Ryckman Jr. (R- Olathe) announced Thursday that he was stepping down from his leadership post to focus on his role as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. At least five candidates have emerged in what could become a competitive race for the fifth ranking slot in the GOP leadership.
“It has been an honor to serve as House majority whip for over a year,” Ryckman wrote in an email to colleagues late Thursday morning. “Because of my new commitment as chairman of the Appropriations Committee, the caucus will be best served if I step back from my role as whip and focus solely on the budget.”
Ryckman’s decision comes as the budget-writing panel is in the middle of considering ways to plug a multimillion-dollar budget deficit in the state. A second term lawmaker, Ryckman was elected to the majority whip’s job a year ago and was tapped to fill the appropriations chairmanship last month.
At least five candidates have emerged in the race to succeed him. Reps. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee), Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) and Bill Sutton (R-Gardner) have emailed campaign announcements to their colleagues, while multiple sources have confirmed that Reps. Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater) and Erin Davis (R-Olathe) are likely candidates for the post.
Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), who Ryckman defeated last year, told The Celock Report that he is not seeking the whip’s post. Couture-Lovelady was elected House majority caucus chairman in November and also serves as vice chairman of the powerful Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Dove, a second term lawmaker, used a brief email to his colleagues early Thursday afternoon to formally announce his candidacy. Dove currently serves as the vice chairman of the Children and Seniors Committee.
“In lieu of Representative Ron Ryckman, Jr. withdrawing from his position as majority whip, I am offering this email as my formal announcement of my interest in filling this position.” Dove wrote.”An email will follow explaining the reasons I feel I am a most qualified candidate as your majority whip.”
Sutton, a second term lawmaker who is vice chairman of the Education Budget Committee, used an email to colleagues Thursday afternoon to describe what he sees are the challenges of the whip’s post, which includes working with leadership to count votes on legislation. He said that he sees the job as working as a liaison between leadership and lawmakers.
“The responsibility of the whip is twofold, to promote the position of leadership and to work with the political realities that we each face in our home districts,” Sutton wrote. “There are many routes to 63, and I look forward to the opportunity to work with you during this challenging session.”
Hildabrand, a third term lawmaker, used his email to outline what he envisions the majority whip serving as a communication hub between the GOP leadership team and the caucus.
“With four years in the legislature completed, I feel that I bring experience and personal relationships to the job. I view the position as a two-way street between the House body and leadership,” Hildabrand wrote. “It is not only leadership gathering support for legislation but providing crucial feedback to leadership from House members on what they want in legislation. I would proudly be both your independent voice and consensus builder.”
Hildabrand is the chairman of the Johnson County House delegation and a former vice chairman of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee. Known as a leading libertarian lawmaker, Hildabrand pushed a successful bill in 2013 that would exempt Kansas from federal gun laws on guns made in the state and that do not leave the state. Hildabrand has also been involved in the Assembly of State Legisaltures, which is seeking to call an Article V convention to amend the U.S. Constitution. He is currently pushing a bill that would allow terminally ill patients in the state to be able to use experimental drugs that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Davis, who joined the House in 2014, is a family law attorney professionally. She is in the process of advocating a bill to create savings accounts for disabled children that would not impact their eligibility for Medicare and Social Security disability benefits.
Hoffman, a third term lawmaker, is a former majority caucus chairman. He currently serves as the chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Committee and is a former vice chairman of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
Hoffman would be the only candidate not to hail from northeast Kansas. Davis, Sutton and Hildabrand all represent districts in Johnson County, while Dove represents a Wyandotte County district, all outside of Kansas City. Hoffman’s district is based along the Oklahoma border in the southwestern and central parts of the state.