TOPEKA — A Republican state senator who endorsed a Democrat for Congress and criticized Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer’s health policies is paying a hefty political price for speaking her mind.
Senate President Susan Wagle recently announced that she had stripped Sen. Barbara Bollier, a moderate from Mission Hills, of her leadership position on the Senate health committee.
That action, according to a letter that Bollier received Thursday, also makes her ineligible to serve on a joint committee charged with overseeing KanCare, the state’s privatized Medicaid program, and task forces created to address the opioid crisis and problems in the child welfare system.
Wagle said Bollier’s endorsement of Tom Niermann, one of several Democrats competing for the right to challenge 3rd District Republican Congressman Kevin Yoder, left her with “no choice.”
“Sen. Bollier has lost credibility within our caucus, which makes it impossible for her to function in a leadership role.” Wagle said in a media release.
The Senate President's office said Sen. Ty Masterson, head of the conservative Truth Caucus, would replace Bollier on the child welfare task force and the KanCare oversight committee.
Bollier has long been at odds with her party’s conservative leadership but has become particularly outspoken recently on hot-button issues such as gun control and Medicaid expansion.
“The more of this they do to me the more I know I’m doing the right thing,” Bollier said in an interview Friday.
Though she’s no longer a member, Bollier said she would continue to attend task force and oversight committee meetings.
The senator went to Thursday’s meeting of the governor’s Substance Use Disorder Task Force in Topeka not realizing that she was no longer a member. At the meeting, Bollier continued her criticism of the Colyer administration for refusing to include an expansion of Medicaid eligibility in the task force’s policy recommendations.
Rep. Elizabeth Bishop, a Wichita Democrat and member of the task force, said Bollier’s removal will “hinder” the work of the group, which is scheduled to deliver recommendations to the governor by Sept. 1.
“It’s shortsighted,” Bishop said. “She will be missed.”
Bishop herself caused a stir at Thursday’s meeting by pressing Greg Lakin, the state’s chief medical officer and chair of the task force, on why discussions about Medicaid expansion at previous meetings weren’t reflected in the minutes.
She said several members of the working group, which includes representatives of the state’s hospitals and physicians, are planning to issue a written dissent if the official recommendations don't include expansion.
“That will definitely be done,” Bishop said.
In guiding the task force, Lakin said it’s his job to keep members focused on developing affordable and politically viable recommendations.
“I’m just trying to keep us on task,” Lakin said.
Colyer, the force behind the state’s privatization of Medicaid in 2013 when he was Gov. Sam Brownback’s lieutenant governor, is opposed to expanding Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act even though it would substantially increase federal funding. He has said extending coverage to approximately 150,000 low-income but “able-bodied” Kansans would make them more dependent on government and less likely to work.
Jim McLean is managing director of the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics.