By John Celock
In a close contest, Kansas House Republicans have elected a second term lawmaker who attended the 1963 March on Washington as their new whip.
Rep. Willie Dove (R-Bonner Springs) narrowly edged out Rep. Brett Hildabrand (R-Shawnee) to succeed Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr. (R-Olathe) for the majority whip’s job. Dove defeated Hildabrand in a 47-44 vote on the third ballot in what had been a four-way race to succeed Ryckman. Ryckman stepped down last week in order to focus on his role as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Reps. Bill Sutton (R-Gardiner) and Erin Davis (R-Olathe) had both been whip candidates at the start of the race. Sutton was eliminated after receiving two votes on the first ballot, while Davis was eliminated following a third place showing on the second ballot. Hildabrand and Dove had started to show strength on the first ballot.
In an email to House Republicans earlier this week, Dove had talked about his background as a small business owner and the need for House Republicans to work to protect small businesses in the state. He noted that second term lawmakers needed to step up into leadership roles in the House.
“I am a small businessman, like many of you and know what it is to compete in the private sector,” Dove wrote. “Small businesses are the real job creators in our state, and we must continue to build without picking winners and losers.”
Dove also noted that he wanted to work across the GOP caucus, including all ideological factions.
“To that end, I look forward to working with each member of our caucus, regardless of geographic or political division to insure continued success of our legislative agenda in the House,” Dove wrote earlier this week.
Dove, who works in insurance sales and has lived in Kansas since 1989, is currently the vice chairman of the House Children and Seniors Committee. He is also a member of the Education and Insurance Committees. During a House floor session prior to the whip vote on Wednesday, Dove carried legislation related to legal services insurance.
Dove is now one of two second term lawmakers in the House GOP leadership, joining Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Palco), the Republican caucus chairman. Ryckman is also in his second term.
Couture-Lovelady welcomed Dove to the leadership.
“Willie is a well respected member of the House who will do a good job reaching out to the many differing interests,” Couture-Lovelady told The Celock Report. “With 97 Republicans House leadership will have to work extra hard to stay in touch with the members and having someone with Representative Dove’s skill set on the team will serve us well.”
Dove attended the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He recalled his participation in the civil rights movement in a 2013 op-ed in the Kansas City Kansan.
An Army veteran, Dove notes on his website that he and his wife, Sunday, are members of Vista Baptist Church, where he has served as chairman of the reconciliation committee and chairman of the Deacons. He and his wife have two sons and five grandchildren. Dove has sung the National Anthem at House sessions in the past.
On his campaign website, Dove notes that he believes in conservative ideals and wants to work to help children and senior citizens in the state. He also notes a believes in lower taxes and regulatory reform in order to stimulate small business growth.
The majority whip’s role is to count votes on behalf of the Republican leadership in the House. Ryckman’s resignation had opened up a wide open contest for the job. In addition to the four candidates, Reps. J.R. Claeys (R-Salina) and Kyle Hoffman (R-Coldwater) had considered campaigns for the job.
The four candidates largely circulated similar messages of working to be a voice between leadership and the membership, along with working to get bills to 63 votes.
Couture-Lovelady praised Dove, Davis, Hildabrand and Sutton for deciding to seek the post.
“We had four great candidates and I commend all of them for stepping up, especially with all of the many challenges we will face this session,” he said.
Hildabrand, the chairman of the Johnson County delegation, told The Celock Report that he is confident that Dove will perform well as whip.
“Willie Dove is a good friend that I know will serve the caucus well,” he said. “I congratulate him on his hard fought, well earned win.”
Davis said she looks forward to working with Dove and thanked her colleagues for considering her.
“Today’s election was an indication that our caucus is fortunate to have a number of leaders who are ready to serve our state,” Davis told The Celock Report. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be considered and look forward to working with Rep. Dove to move our state forward.”
Claeys, who previously shared an office with Dove, praised both Dove and Hildabrand.
“Representative Dove is my former office mate and a friend,” Claeys told The Celock Report. “The friendships he’s built have made him a solid choice as whip. It was a close race and Representative Hildabrand is well respected in the caucus.”