TOPEKA — The Kansas Senate's president is contemplating removal of Republican chairmen of the utilities and insurance committees in a shakeup that includes appointment of a new leader of the health committee because of resignation of Topeka Sen. Vicki Schmidt.
Senate President Susan Wagle, who possesses authority to appoint and remove senators from committees, has been working on options for shuffling the deck ahead of the legislative session in January. It will be marked by inauguration of Democratic Gov.-elect Laura Kelly, who will replace Gov. Jeff Colyer and end eight years of GOP control of the executive branch.
"President Wagle is currently in communication with her senators and we will announce any changes in a press release when everything is finalized," said spokeswoman Shannon Golden.
Several lawmakers who are participants or observers of maneuvering by Wagle shared where they expected members to land.
Wagle's obligation is to select a replacement for Schmidt, who chairs the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee. Schmidt, a moderate Republican, was elected state insurance commissioner in November.
Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Wichita conservative opposed to Medicaid expansion, is expected to assume Schmidt's place on the committee. Kelly and Schmidt have sought to broaden eligibility for Medicaid under the federal Affordable Care Act.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, anticipates appointment as chairman of the Senate Utilities Committee. He would replace Sen. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, as chairman of a committee facing pressure to tamp down Kansas electric rates.
Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican and vice president of the Senate, will likely leave the Senate Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee. It isn't clear who would slide into that chairmanship, but Olson could end up leading the panel.
Longbine didn't respond to request for comment, but the Senate's top Democrat said removal of Longbine was tied to wrangling among conservatives about who would lead the Senate when Wagle's term expired.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said Wagle and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning anticipated Longbine was planning to run for Senate president after the 2020 elections.
"It is a combined effort by the president and majority leader to control the Senate for the next two years and set up a Jim Denning presidency," Hensley said.
During the 2018 campaign, Wagle stripped Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills, of her vice chairmanship of the Senate health committee. Bollier had endorsed a Democratic congressional candidate and expressed support for election of Kelly as governor.
"While we respect differing opinions in our caucus, it is unacceptable to betray members of your own party by publicly endorsing leftist Democrats,” Wagle said at that time.