Incoming Speaker Ray Merrick said Wednesday that his selections of committee leaders were dictated by his need for a strong leadership team. His list of appointments, released late Tuesday, included 11 new chairmen and chairwomen for 20 standing committees, reflecting changes required because previous leaders didn't seek re-election to the House or lost their seats this year.
But Merrick, a conservative Stilwell Republican, kept the chairmen of the powerful Appropriations, Taxation and Judiciary committees. He and the new committee leaders take over their jobs when legislators open their 2013 session in mid-January.
"I need to govern, and I need the best people in the jobs," Merrick said. "I've got a history with most of them."
All of the committee chairmen and chairwomen are Republicans, in keeping with the GOP's 92-33 advantage in the House, and most are conservatives, reflecting the GOP right's solid majority.
Marc Rhoades of Newton will return as Appropriations Committee chairman, putting him at the center of debates over closing a projected $295 million gap between anticipated revenues and existing spending commitments for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Rhoades has held the job for two years and has been a solid ally of conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, helping to fashion spending proposals that left room for income tax cuts favored by the governor to stimulate the economy.
As Taxation Committee Chairman, Richard Carlson of St. Marys pushed for aggressive income tax cuts and ultimately supported a successful package worth $4.5 billion over the next six years. The reductions led to the projected shortfall, and lawmakers are expected to consider adjustments, though some of them want to pursue further cuts.
Merrick kept Lance Kinzer of Olathe on as Judiciary Committee chairman even though Kinzer was among Merrick's rivals for the speaker's job. Merrick is replacing Speaker Mike O'Neal of Hutchinson, who didn't see re-election to the House and is now chief executive officer of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce.
Kinzer is a strong advocate of giving the governor and legislators more power over appellate court appointments, an issue Brownback pushed unsuccessfully last year. He's also a leader among anti-abortion legislators, though the Judiciary Committee hasn't handled that issue in the past.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said the list of committee leaders reflects "a fair bit of continuity" especially given high turnover in this year's elections. Forty-nine of the incoming House members have not served in the Legislature previously.
Davis said running a committee can be learned on the job but, "It's always helpful to have people who have a little bit of experience."
Merrick replaced Steve Brunk of Bel Aire as chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee with Arlen Siegfreid of Olathe, the outgoing majority leader and one of Merrick's rivals for the speaker's job. The committee has handled legislation dealing with hot-button social issues that include abortion, gambling, immigration and gun rights.
Also new is Rep. Kasha Kelley of Arkansas City as chairwoman of the Education Committee. She replaces Clay Aurand of Belleville, who lost his seat to another GOP incumbent in a primary contest forced by political redistricting.