Two more incumbent Kansas Republican legislators have decided to leave the Republican Party, register as Democrats and join the Democratic caucuses in the Statehouse.
As you already know, Senator Barbara Bollier (D-Mission Hills), left the Republican Party earlier this month and joined the Democrats. Bollier had angered Senate President Susan Wagle (R-Wichita) by endorsing Democrat Tom Niermann for US House District 3 over Kevin Yoder and Democrat Laura Kelly over Kris Kobach for Governor. Wagle stripped Bollier of her leadership position on the Health and Human Services Committee (Bollier is the only physician serving in the Senate) and publicly chastised her.
Today it was announced that Senator Dinah Sykes has also left the Republicans and joined the Democratic Party. Sykes is from Lenexa and represents Senate District 21.
Both Sykes and Bollier have been stalwart supporters of public schools, children, and public school educators. Both also held Republican seats on the Senate Education Committee. Bollier served in the House from 2010 through 2016 before being elected to the Senate in 2016. Sykes was elected to the Senate in 2016. She ran on a promise to reverse the Brownback tax disaster and fund public schools. Bollier and Sykes have both kept their promises to voters and to our public schools.
Sykes summed up her thoughts in a press release announcing her decision:
“I strongly believe elected officials should serve the people they represent. That belief drove me to run for office. I ran for the Kansas Senate to protect the Kansas quality of life and to bring common sense to Topeka. At this time, I feel like I can either fight to change the Republican party or fight for the state I love and the people I serve. I think I can better serve my state and constituents as a member of the Democratic party.”
“I am a moderate person who represents a moderate and pragmatic district that expects me to focus on issues and solutions that impact their day-to-day lives. Increasingly, I see the Republican party focusing on issues and approaches that divide our country. I do not agree with that approach.”
In welcoming Senator Sykes to the Democratic caucus, Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley (D-Topeka) said, “Senator Sykes is a commonsense leader who serves with the best interests of her constituents in mind, no matter the party label. She will be a great addition to our caucus.”
And across the rotunda…
Also this morning, State Representative Stephanie Clayton announced her switch from the Republican to the Democratic Party. Clayton is from Overland Park and represents HD 19.
Clayton made it clear in a press release announcing her decision that public education was front and center in her thinking. Said Clayton, “I first ran for office in 2010, when my daughter was in first grade, because of the lack of stable funding for public education. Leaders in the Kansas House and Senate have now indicated that they will seek to scrap the bipartisan education plan achieved over the last two years, just as we are so close to solving this problem and ending the cycle of school litigation.”
Clayton has been noted for her bipartisan work and was an organizer and leader of the bipartisan “Women’s Caucus”, which moved the agenda on comprehensive tax reform in the 2017 legislative session. It was that work that pushed the legislature to finally adopt a tax bill that reversed the failed Brownback experiment and set the state on the path to fiscal stability.
In welcoming Representative Clayton into the Democratic House Caucus, Minority Leader-elect Tom Sawyer (D-Wichita) said, “Rep. Clayton will be welcomed into the House Democratic Caucus. We have continuously worked with her on important issues such as education and healthcare, and look forward to working alongside Stephanie as a member of our caucus. She is a public servant with incredibly impressive passion, grit, and drive to do the right thing for Kansans.”
These changes put the Senate at 11 Democrats, 28 Republicans, and 1 Independent; the House is now 41 Democrats and 84 Republicans.