Olathe Republican Ron Ryckman retained the top political position in the Kansas House in voting Monday that led to insurgent candidates ousting both the chamber's GOP majority leader and Democratic minority leader.
Ryckman received near-unanimous support from Republicans to secure the job of House speaker for the 2019 and 2020 legislative sessions. The elections decided by new and returning GOP members moved the party's leadership away from the political center, which could make the task of governing more challenging for Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly.
"The leadership team will be more conservative than it was the last two years," Ryckman said. "The Republicans are going to work with the governor on things that benefit the state. We believe the majority of the state still wants and believes in Republican principles."
Ryckman received 80 of 84 votes to easily defeat the challenge by Rep.-elect Owen Donohoe, a Shawnee Republican to the right of Ryckman. Donohoe nominated himself, but had such thin support no representative seconded his nomination.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a conservative Wichita Republican, endorsed Ryckman for a new term as speaker, pointing to his work raising money and knocking on doors for Republican candidates.
"Ron Ryckman Jr. always has an open-door policy. He listens and shoots straight with you. There is no doubt where he is coming from because he does not play games," Landwehr said.
In separate partisan elections, House Republicans and Democrats chose a collection of peers to serve in leadership posts dedicated to organizing voting coalitions, ushering bills to the floor, writing policy papers and working with freshmen legislators.
The 2019 Legislature and Kelly will benefit from a surge in state tax revenue, but the lawmakers face massive requests for spending increases on public schools, Medicaid, social services, transportation and pensions.
"I want to congratulate the new leaders in the Kansas House of Representatives on their election," Kelly said on behalf of herself and Lt. Gov.-elect Lynn Rogers. "Lynn Rogers and I look forward to working together with each of you to rebuild our state and improve the lives of families across Kansas."
Democrats meeting elsewhere in the Statehouse chose Wichita Rep. Tom Sawyer to replace House Minority Leader Jim Ward, also of Wichita. The vote was 24-16 in Sawyers' favor.
GOP members selected conservative Rep. Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, to serve as House majority leader rather than incumbent Don Hineman, a moderate Republican from the southwest Kansas community of Dighton. The vote among Republicans: Hawkins, 48; Hineman, 35.
"After results of the general election in November," Hineman said, "it was obvious both caucuses, really, had moved away from the center. That has implications in leadership elections. I'm disappointed in how my race turned out, but it wasn't totally unexpected."
Rep. Bradley Ralph, R-Dodge City, said he supported re-election of Hineman as majority leader because it would be a "statement to this state of the value we place on our rural communities."
The emergence of Hawkins and other House conservatives could present a formidable obstacle to portions of Kelly's agenda and indicate the House might assume a more urban agenda. A major test could come with development of a bill expanding eligibility for Medicaid. Previously, proposals from Democrats and moderate Republicans adding about 150,000 adults to the state's Medicaid roll were narrowly defeated by conservative Republicans.
Rep. Russ Jennings, a moderate Republican from Lakin, said the centrist wing of the House Republican caucus was reduced by seven or eight members in the August primary and November general elections to about 35 total.
In the 125-member House, moderate GOP members will line up with 50 conservative Republicans and the 40 Democrats.
"The Democrats and more conservative Republicans -- neither one have 63 votes. That's what it takes to get business done here. I think moderate Republicans in this state will have influence on policy," Jennings said.