Moderates Grab Kansas Senate Committee Chairs

By John Celock

Moderates are on the rise in the Kansas Senate after four years on the sidelines.

Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) announced Wednesday that she was putting two moderate Republicans senators in charge of key committees, four years after they were ousted from those spots by Wagle. Sen. Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick) will return as chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka) will return as chairwoman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

McGinn and Schmidt held those spots under former Senate President Steve Morris (R), a moderate. They lost the spots in 2012 when Wagle took the Senate presidency with a conservative Republican Senate majority. Wagle was reelected as Senate president last week in a Senate with more moderate Republicans. Schmidt, a pharmacist, and McGinn, who works in agriculture, had not held seats on either panel for the past four years.

McGinn succeeds Sen. Ty Masterson (R-Andover) at the helm of the budget writing committee. Masterson was widely expected to lose the chairmanship after he launched a failed bid to unseat Wagle as Senate president. Schmidt succeeds Sen. Michael O’Donnell (R-Wichita) in the health chairmanship. O’Donnell did not seek reelection to the Senate in order to successfully seek a seat on the Sedgwick County Commission. Wagle appointed O’Donnell to the health chairmanship earlier this year after she ousted Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook (R-Shawnee) from the job over disagreements over the Medicaid expansion.

Schmidt is likely to lead the committee in a difference manner than Pilcher-Cook did in her over three years as chair. Pilcher-Cook’s tenure was known for her conservative views, including opposition to abortion and the Medicaid expansion.

Wagle named Sen. Jake LaTurner (R-Pittsburg), the state’s youngest senator next year, to chair the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee. LaTurner, the committee’s vice chairman, will take the helm of a committee that will deal with a variety of issues including guns and alcohol policy for the next four years.

Wagle signaled a desire to end Senate panels that meet half the week by merging the Ethics and Elections Committee and the Local Government Committee and the Agriculture Committee and the Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Elaine Bowers (R-Concordia) will be the chairwoman of the new Senate Ethics, Elections and Local Government Committee, while Sen. Dan Kerschen (R-Great Plains) will chair the new Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Wagle also abolished the Senate Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee in the reshuffle.

Full list of Kansas Senate Committee Chairs
Agriculture and Natural Resources: Sen. Dan Kerschen (R-Great Plains)
Assessment and Taxation: Sen. Caryn Tyson (R-Parker)
Commerce: Sen. Julia Lynn (R-Olathe)
Education – Sen. Molly Baumgardner (R-Louisberg)
Ethics, Elections and Local Government: Sen. Elaine Bower (R-Concordia)
Federal and State Affairs: Sen. Jake LaTurner (R-Pittsburg)
Financial Institutions and Insurance: Sen. Jeff Longbine (R-Emporia)
Judiciary: Sen. Rick Wilborn (R-McPherson)
Public Health and Welfare: Sen. Vicki Schmidt (R-Topeka)
Transportation: Sen. Mike Petersen (R-Wichita)
Utilities: Sen. Rob Olsen (R-Olathe)
Ways and Means: Sen. Carolyn McGinn (R-Sedgwick)