By John Celock
A conservative Republican from the Kansas City suburbs will be the next speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives, with a moderate as the new majority leader.
Kansas House Republicans voted 57-28 Monday morning to elect Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe) over Rep. Russ Jennings (R-Lakin) to succeed outgoing House Speaker Ray Merrick (R). Ryckman’s election follows a competitive race that originally featured three candidates, with Majority Leader Jene Vickrey (R-Overland Park) announcing over the weekend that he was withdrawing from the race. Rep. Don Hineman (R-Dighton) defeated Rep. John Barker (R-Abilene) 44-41 in the race for majority leader.
Following the vote, the GOP caucus unanimously adopted a Jennings motion to elect Ryckman by acclimation. Jennings called for party unity in making the motion.
Ryckman, a former majority whip, has long been viewed as a frontrunner to succeed Merrick, who did not seek reelection to the House. Entering his third term, Ryckman has spent the past two years as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, where he has presided over a tumultuous budget process, amid ongoing revenue shortfalls. Earlier this year, Ryckman was a key figure in drafting a school finance bill to address a state Supreme Court order regarding school finance.
Ryckman, who chaired the Social Services Budget Committee in his first term, comes to the speakership as Kansas lawmakers prepare to adopt a new school finance formula, address budget shortfalls and potential new tax plans. Ryckman’s election follows a rise in moderate Republicans in the state House, following this year’s election.
Ryckman has been viewed by some as a candidate who could bridge a gap between conservatives and moderates in the caucus.
Jennings, a former head of the state Juvenile Justice Authority entering his third term, was the moderate candidate for speaker. The vice chairman of the House Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee, Jennings has played an instrumental role in corrections finance legislation over the last two years.
Hineman, a leading House moderate Republican, becomes Ryckman’s number two in the House GOP leadership. He narrowly defeated Barker, a former judge and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, in the race for the spot. Hineman replaces Vickery who did not seek a third term in the job.
In the race for House speaker pro tempore, Republicans elected Insurance and Financial Institutions Committee Chairman Scott Schwab (R-Olathe) with 52 votes. Schwab defeated House Agriculture and Natural Resources Budget Committee Chairman Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater) who received 19 votes and House Education Committee Chairman Ron Highland (R-Wamego) who received 14 votes. Schwab replaces outgoing Speaker Pro Tempore Peggy Mast (R-Emporia), who did not seek reelection the House.
In the race for House assistant majority leader, Rep. Tom Phillips (R-Manhattan), a moderate and vice chairman of the House Local Government Committee, defeated Rep. Dan Hawkins (R-Wichita), the chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, 44-41. Phillips replaces Rep. Mario Goico (R-Wichita), who did not seek reelection to the House.
Moderates also grabbed the majority whip’s job in the House, with Rep. Kent Thompson (R-Iola), the vice chairman of the Pensions and Benefits Committee, defeating Rep. Blake Carpenter (R-Derby) 48-37. Thompson succeed Majority Whip Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs), who unsuccessfully sought the caucus chairmanship.
In the race for House Republican caucus chair, Rep. Susan Concannon (R-Beloit), a moderate, easily defeated Dove, a conservative, 55-30. Concannon’s win comes a year after Merrick removed Concannon as the vice chairwoman of the House Health and Human Services Committee over Concannon’s support for Medicaid expansion. Dove replaced Concannon as in the vice chairman’s post. Concannon’s removal came amid several lawmakers who backed the Medicaid expansion being removed from the health panel by Merrick. Concannon was reassigned to the House General Government Budget Committee.
Concannon succeeds Hawkins in the caucus chairmanship.