Three regents cleared to serve despite questions
TOPEKA (AP) — A Republican-dominated Kansas Senate committee Monday approved Gov. Sam Brownback's three new appointees to the board that oversees the state's higher education system, but a Democratic leader questioned whether one appointment was proper.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, attacked Brownback's appointment of Dodge City attorney Shane Bangerter to the state Board of Regents. Bangerter had been registered to vote as a Republican — and once served as treasurer for Ford County's Republican Party — but switched to unaffiliated in February.
State law says no more than five of the nine regents can be from the same political party, and five other members, including another new Brownback appointee, are Republicans. Hensley accused Bangerter of changing his political affiliation so that he could serve on the board and said Brownback should be held responsible for "a sham of a process."
"I don't understand what it is, that this governor must think that he doesn't have to play by the rules," Hensley said. "In my opinion, the law has been circumvented in this case."
Bangerter said he became less active in the Republican Party and changed his party affiliation because he views himself as an independent.
Bangerter, who sits on Dodge City Community College's Board of Trustees, told Hensley on Monday: "If you sat down and talked with me, I think you would agree that I should be an independent."
He said no one in the governor's office suggested he change his affiliation or even approached him about the regents' position. The appointments were announced last week.
Hensley is the only Democrat on the six-member Senate Confirmation Oversight Committee, which voted 5-1 to approve Bangerter's appointment. The committee also approved the appointments of Helen Van Etten, a Republican from Topeka, and Ann Murguia, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan.
The three new regents will serve until the full Senate can consider their appointments during the Legislature's 2014 session.
Brownback's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Senate Vice President Jeff King, an Independence Republican and a committee member, said he was "embarrassed" by Hensley's attack. And Sen. Pat Apple, a Louisburg Republican, said: "It seems that we're entering election season a little bit early."
King noted that in 2006, Mark Parkinson, a former state GOP chairman, switched parties to run as then-Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' choice for lieutenant governor. Sebelius announced Parkinson's appointment to her ticket the day after his switch. Parkinson served out Sebelius' term when she resigned in 2009 to become U.S. health and human services secretary.
Hensley also voted against Van Etten's appointment after questioning her about cuts enacted by lawmakers this year in higher education funding. She said higher education must remain a priority, but she also praised efforts by Brownback and Republican legislators to reduce personal income taxes over the past two years — something Hensley has strongly opposed.
Van Etten is the chief audiologist for the Topeka school district, and she serves on the Republican National Committee.
The committee unanimously approved Murguia's appointment. She is the executive director of a neighborhood redevelopment association. She serves on the commission for the Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County and ran unsuccessfully for Unified Government mayor this year.