Democrat Sawyer steps away from leadership post; Hawkins seeks job of Kansas House speaker

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — Kansas House Democratic leader Tom Sawyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1986, said Tuesday he didn’t intend to seek the leadership job entering the 2023 session.

The announcement that Sawyer would step aside but remain in the House followed decisions by House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, both Republicans, not to seek reelection in 2022. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, who was reelected, is expected to be chosen by peers to serve as House speaker for the two-year legislative cycle.

Sawyer, of Wichita, was House majority leader from 1991 to 1992, House minority leader from 1993 to 1998 and House minority leader since 2018. His final day in that role would be Jan. 9.

“Upon deep reflection, I believe it is time for me to step back and allow the caucus to have a new leader who will lead us and Kansans towards achieving these important goals,” Sawyer said. “It has been an honor of a lifetime to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead our caucus over the many years.”

Voting in the August primary and November general election left House Republicans with a two-thirds majority important when considering vetoes of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Democrats gained one seat to bring the caucus to 40 in the 125-member House. Democrats fell two seats short of breaking the GOP supermajority and offer more assistance to Kelly during her second term.

Sawyer, who ran for governor in 1998 and served four years as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Part, said he expected Democrats to expand their numbers in the House.

“This growth, which I hope to see continue in the coming years, will strengthen our position to advocate strongly for the issues that matter most to Kansans, such as tax relief, expanding Medicaid, fully funding public education including special education and legalizing medicinal marijuana,” he said.

Hawkins, who has served in the House since 2013, outlined in a letter to House Republicans a critique of the governor. He said Kelly botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed crime and inflation to rise and made anti-abortion policy an “afterthought.”

Individuals elected in November to serve in the 2023 Legislature will vote Dec. 5 on nominees for House speaker, House majority leader and House speaker pro tem as well as the top Democratic posts in the chamber.

Kansas Reflector stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

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Kansas GOP suspends punishment of party members amid loyalty crackdown

by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Topeka — The Kansas Republican Party’s chairman said sanctions against party members were suspended due to appeals filed by people who were to be penalized for signing a petition leading to placement on November ballots of an independent candidate for governor.

Mike Kuckelman, who leads the Kansas GOP, said the party’s loyalty committee met Wednesday to consider challenges to punishments sought by top party officials. Approximately 40 party members holding leadership posts signed Sen. Dennis Pyle’s petition, an act viewed as evidence these officials provided direct support to someone other than GOP gubernatorial nominee Derek Schmidt.

Amid demands by the accused for due process, Kuckelman said the loyalty committee temporarily suspended disciplinary action so cases could be handled individually in the future.

The Kansas GOP leadership had voted Nov. 9 — one day after Schmidt’s loss — to chastise signers of the Pyle petition. The objective of the Republicans’ loyalty committee is to strip offenders of party leadership posts.

“In light of the number of appeals, the loyalty committee cannot properly hear and decide each appeal,” Kuckelman said. “It is not possible to assemble the executive committee to hear each appeal, and render a decision on each appeal in a timely manner, without risk of unfairly disrupting county reorganization meetings.”

Schmidt lost the Nov. 8 race to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who secured 49% of the vote to Schmidt’s 47%. Pyle received 2% and the Libertarian Party nominee got 1%.

Kelly’s margin of victory was 20,886 votes, the Kansas secretary of state said. Pyle, who ran a conservative campaign that denounced Kelly and Schmidt, received 20,057 votes.

In 2007, the state Republican Party moved to form a loyalty committee after losing several prominent elections, including an attempt to block reelection of Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.

The concept was inspired by Kris Kobach, who was chairman of the Kansas GOP, and Christian Morgan, who was the state party’s executive director.

“The motive behind this is, ‘Let’s make sure Republicans are supporting Republicans,’” Morgan told the Associated Press 15 years ago. “If you want to hold a party post, you should at least be supporting Republican candidates.”

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Chamber examines election results, looks to 2023

Opinion column

by Murrel Bland

The Public Policy Committee of the Kansas City, Kansas, Area Chamber of Commerce met Friday, Nov. 11 to assess the recent general election results and worked on its Legislative Agenda for 2023.

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the incumbent Democratic Congresswoman for the 3rd District, was successful in winning a third term. She was able to defeat Republican challenger Amanda Adkins for a second time. Rep. Davids won despite Republicans who gerrymandered the 3rd District by stripping out traditionally Democratic areas of Wyandotte County and putting it in the 2nd Congressional District.

Wyandotte County will be represented by two Congress members. U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a conservative Republican incumbent, defeated Democratic newcomer Patrick Schmidt by more than 35,000 votes.

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, the Republican incumbent, had little trouble defeating Mark Holland, a Democratic former Kansas City, Kansas, mayor, who lost by more than 200,000 votes statewide.

Third party candidates played an important role in the race for governor and lieutenant governor. The incumbent, Democrat Laura Kelly and her running mate, Democrat David Toland, were able to edge by, defeating Republicans, Attorney General Derek Schmidt and his running mate, Katie Sawyer. State Sen. Dennis Pyle, an independent candidate, and Seth Cordell, a Libertarian, attracted more than 30,000 votes. Had they not been in the race, most political observers believe Schmidt would have won. Pyle was upset that his Kansas Senate District had been gerrymandered.

Democratic legislative candidates were successful in Wyandotte County except for Bill Hutton, who lost to Republican Mike Thompson.

In reviewing its Legislative Agenda, the Chamber probably will keep many of its existing agenda items as its looks to 2023. The Chamber has traditionally supported STAR bonds, a finance method that uses sales tax to pay for infrastructure, the efforts of the district attorney to enforce business licenses, expanded Medicaid, origin-based sales tax, early child education, workforce development, sports book gaming and affordable child care.

Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press. He is a member of Business West.