Kansas House Stays Course With Leadership Picks

By John Celock

The Kansas state House will continue largely the same course for the next two years as both parties picked similar leadership teams from the prior two years.

On the Republican side, lawmakers returned their top three leaders for second terms in office. Democrats narrowly elected a new minority leader similar in style to outgoing Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence), rejecting a challenge from a Wichita lawmaker who pledged a more confrontational style with Democrats.

Republicans easily reelected House Speaker Ray Merrick (R-Stilwell) to a second term in office, defeating Rep. Virgil Peck (R-Tyro). Peck, the chairman of the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, had longed been viewed as a long shot to unseat Merrick from the speakership. Peck gained national attention in 2011 when he suggested during a House Appropriations Committee meeting that the state shoot at illegal immigrants from helicopters, similar to a program state officials used to control the feral pig population.

Republicans also reelected House Speaker Pro Temp Peggy Mast (R-Emporia) who fended off a challenge from Rep. Don Schroeder (R-Hesston). House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R-Louisburg) was unopposed in his bid for reelection.

Republicans grew their majority to 98 members in the November election. Earlier this year, GOP leaders welcomed longtime Democratic Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson into their caucus. Pauls, first elected in 1992, won her first term as a Republican this year defeating Democrat Brian Davis.

On the Democratic side, lawmakers narrowly elevated Assistant Minority Leader Tom Burroughs (D-Kansas City) to be the next minority leader. Burroughs defeated Rep. Jim Ward (D-Wichita) by three votes for the top post in the 29 member caucus. Davis gave up his House seat to mount an unsuccessful bid against Gov. Sam Brownback (R) this year.

Burroughs pledged to continue to lead the caucus in a similar style to Davis, which would include working with the Republican majority and being more diplomatic in nature. Ward had pledged a more confrontational style if elected. Ward, a former state senator, had backing from progressive leaders in the state, who have long complained about Davis’ leadership style since taking office as minority leader six years ago.

Rep. Louis Ruiz (D-Kansas City) was elected to succeed Burroughs as assistant minority leader.

Both parties elevated younger second term lawmakers to their leadership teams, with Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco) being elected the new Republican caucus chairman. On the Democratic side, Rep. Brandon Whipple (D-Wichita) was elected agenda chairman and Rep. John Wilson (D-Lawrence) was elected policy chairman.