We Had an Election!

Nov 7, 2018 by

Governor-Elect, Laura Kelly

The 2018 election is finally over and the preliminary results are in. It’s what you might call a “mixed bag.”

On the one hand, on the federal level, the Democrats have taken control of the U.S. House of Representatives and Kansas is part of that change with the defeat of Kevin Yoder and the election of Sharice Davids in CD 3 which includes Johnson and Wyandotte Counties and part of Miami County. The new House of Representatives is likely to act as a check on President Trump and especially the wishes of his Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.

Kansas has also elected a Democratic Governor and sent Kris Kobach back to the private sector- although no one really believes he will be gone for long. The extreme conservative ideology of the Brownback administration will be replaced by an administration known for cooperation and compromise. We look forward to that!

But there are some significant changes to the Kansas House of Representatives and the possibility of big changes in our Senate as well despite the fact that only one Senate seat was on the ballot this year.

So what follows is our preliminary analysis. We should let you know that we are working off the Secretary of State’s preliminary election results and final results won’t be available for a while yet. While not likely, it is possible that some results could change.

Additionally, we warn you that when looking at new Republican legislators it is sometimes difficult to be certain whether they will fall into the Moderate or Conservative camps once they start voting. We rely on the wisdom of those who have some familiarity with them but it’s not a scientific analysis!

Here we go!

The Democrats

The House Democratic Caucus has declined by one seat, going from 40 to 39. While six incumbent Democrats lost their re-election bid (Adam Lusker HD 2, Debbie Deere HD 40, Tim Hodge HD 72, Ed Trimmer HD 79, Steve Crum HD 98, and Eber Phelps HD 111), five new Democrats were elected making it almost a wash.

The six incumbent Democrats who lost were all defeated by Conservative Republicans.

The five new Democrats are Susan Ruiz in HD 23 who defeated Moderate Republican Linda Gallagher, Rui Xu in HD 25 who defeated Moderate Republican Melissa Rooker, Brandon Woodard in HD 30 who won an open seat where incumbent Randy Powell retired, Mike Amyx in HD 45 who will replace retiring Moderate Republican Tom Sloan, and Dave Benson in HD 48 who defeated Conservative incumbent Abraham Rafie.

Three of the new Democrats are replacing Moderate Republicans while two took seats from Conservatives.

The Moderate Republicans

Moderate Republicans picked up four seats currently held by Conservatives: Mark Samsel HD 5 replaces Conservative Kevin Jones who lost his primary for Congress, J.C. Moore HD 93 who defeated Conservative John Whitmer in the primary and went on to win the general, Nick Hoheisel HD 97 who will replace retiring Conservative Les Osterman, and Bill Pannbacker HD 106 who will replace retiring Conservative Clay Aurand.

But Moderate Republicans lost three seats they currently hold to Democrats in the general (Gallagher, Rooker, and Sloan) and an additional six Moderates will be replaced by Conservatives who defeated them in the primary. Those six are HD 8 where Chris Croft defeated Patty Markley, HD 28 where Kellie Warren defeated Joy Koesten, HD 39 where Owen Donohoe will replace retiring Shelee Brim, HD 74 where Steven Kelly defeated Don Schroeder, HD 75 where Will Carpenter defeated Mary Martha Good, HD 80 where Bill Rhiley defeated Anita Judd-Jenkins, HD 87 where Renee Erickson will replace retiring Roger Elliott, and HD 104 where Paul Waggoner defeated Steven Becker.

That’s a loss of 11 Moderate Republican seats offset by three Democrats resulting in Conservatives taking eight Moderate seats.

The Coalition

So with Democrats down by one seat and Moderate Republicans down by 11, the Conservatives will have a solid block that can control leadership elections and then the appointment of committee chairs and vice chairs.

In analyzing the Democrat/Moderate coalition that managed to reverse the Brownback tax disaster and restore a sound school finance system, we must look at a couple of factors. First, Democrats usually vote as a solid block in favor of public education which means there will almost certainly be 39 votes in support of public education issues. Sadly 39 votes cannot pass good legislation or defeat bad legislation. That means the Democrats must have the support of 24 Republicans to get to the necessary 63 vote majority.

Our legislative agenda is tied to the ability of Democrats and Moderate Republicans to work together to overcome the Conservative plurality. We believe that the new House will have just enough solid Moderate Republicans to reach the 63 vote threshold with the 39 Democrats. There are also an additional eight or nine Republicans who vote sometimes with the Conservatives and sometimes with the Moderates. If we can move some of those Republicans to support the coalition, we might be okay.

That’s where the cooperation comes in. With diminished numbers of Moderate Republicans and Democrats, it will be more important than ever that these two factions work together and cooperate in developing and passing good legislation that helps our schools and keeps our state moving forward.

In the Senate

While only one seat was up in the Senate- a special election to finish the term of SD 13 currently held by Richard Hilderbrand who was appointed to the seat when former senator Jake LaTurner became State Treasurer. Hilderbrand survived a challenge from Democrat Bryan Hoffman to retain the seat so the Senate remains 30 Republicans, nine Democrats, and one Independent.

But the actual membership and make-up of the Senate will be changing.

Democratic Senators Laura Kelly and Lynn Rogers were elected as Governor and Lieutenant Governor meaning new Senators will be selected to replace them. Republican Senator Vicki Schmidt was elected as Insurance Commissioner and a new Senator will be selected to replace her. These selections are made by the precinct committee chairs in the District representing the party of the departing Senator. So Democratic precinct committee chairs in SD 18 will pick a Democratic replacement for Kelly, Democratic precinct committee chairs in SD 25 will pick a Democratic replacement for Rogers, and Republican precinct committee chairs in SD 20 will pick a Republican replacement for Schmidt.

There is no telling yet who their replacements might be. They could be chosen from out of the House meaning some new House members would then need to be selected in the same manner or they could select entirely new people. In the case of Vicki Schmidt, the selection depends on the ideology of the precinct committee chairs. If they are mostly conservatives then Moderate Republican Schmidt could be replaced by a Conservative.

There is also much speculation about two other Senators. Independent John Doll left the Republican Party to run as Greg Orman’s running mate. What will he decide to do? Will the Republicans welcome him back? Will he stay as an independent or will he become a Democrat? Will he decide to resign from the Senate? The other one is Republican Senator Barbara Bollier whose public endorsements of Democrats Laura Kelly for Governor and Sharice Davids for Congress brought the wrath of Senate Republican leadership down upon her. What will happen to her if she returns as a Republican? Will she be given the worst assignments or welcomed back? Might she become a Democrat or another Independent?

So the Senate is still up in the air as to how it will look come January.

We have a new Governor!

We are very excited that the election of Laura Kelly as Governor means the door has finally been shut on the extreme conservative administration of Sam Brownback.

Kelly and her Lieutenant Governor Lynn Rogers are staunch supporters of public schools and public school educators. Kelly has twice won the KNEA “Friend of Education Award” and Rogers has served as a member of the Wichita Public Schools School Board. Both are known for an ability to reach across the aisle to seek compromise for the good of the state.

We are confident that Kelly will do her utmost to include all legislative factions in the process of crafting good legislation to address the issues facing Kansans but also that she will be willing to use her veto pen should she be presented with legislation that turns back the progress made during the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions.

We look forward to working with her throughout her time as Governor.

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Lack of Cooperation, Lack of Solutions

May 31, 2017 by

Is this legislature suffering like Sisyphus, cursed to repeat its failures or will cooperation end the cycle?

We are trying hard to imagine a more disappointing night under the dome than last night.

With the passage of a House school finance plan and the ongoing debate over a Senate plan, the Senate took a break in their debate just before 9:00 last night to take up the Conference Committee Report on HB 2067. This CCR represents a new tax plan that was very similar to the one killed by the House earlier in SB 30.

CCR HB 2067 would have rolled back the worst three provisions of the failed Brownback tax experiment by restoring three income tax brackets, ending the “glide path to zero” income tax, and repealing the LLC income tax loophole. Rise Up Kansas supported this effort, as did Save Kansas Coalition, Mainstream Coalition, KNEA, Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Center for Economic Growth, AFT-Kansas, the Kansas Organization of State Employees, Game On for Kansas Schools, and many other advocacy organizations.

The Senate, after a vigorous debate, adopted the report on a vote of 26 – 14. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said it best in his explanation of vote: “Tonight this bill raises $591 million and goes a lot further in getting our fiscal house in order. This bill is necessary because of what happened in 2012. The Brownback income tax cuts went entirely too far and resulted in a self-inflicted budget crisis. The Senate Democrats unanimously vote for this bill to reverse the damage that’s been inflicted by Sam Brownback’s failed experiment.”

The report went immediately to the House where it was voted down with absolutely no debate at all.

Now we understand the no votes in the Senate; they are the last 14 Senators who actually believe the Brownback tax plan is working (Republicans Alley, Baumgardner, Fitzgerald, Hilderbrand, Lynn, Masterson, Olson, Petersen, Pilcher-Cook, Pyle, Suellentrop, Tyson, Wagle, and Wilborn). We also know that the Republicans who voted NO in the House on the initial vote share Brownback’s ideology. What we don’t understand is the Democratic opposition.

We understood their position on Senate Bill 30 last week even though we urged them to vote YES at that time. House Democrats were determined that if school finance ran first, the bill would be bolstered and a new tax bill would come back supporting a more adequate bill. The school finance plan was voted on, but the funding in the bill did not get increased. A motion by Rep. Ed Trimmer (D-Winfield) to increase the funding did not prevail.

But these are the points we believe today:

  • There are not enough votes today to pass a more robust school finance plan as evidenced by the failure of the House to increase funding and the debate last night on the even more anemic Senate plan.
  • Last night’s tax vote in the Senate was a strong vote although one shy of veto-proof. Securing that final vote is possible.
  • No one expects Brownback to be helpful. He is likely to veto any tax bill that reverses his failures and probably to veto any school finance bill that increases funding rather than just shifting around existing resources and does not contain a voucher program.
  • Democrats and Moderate Republicans can and must work together to move forward. Cooperation worked on the tax bill in the Senate, and it needs to happen in the House.

We are also very much aware that these plans together – school funding and taxes – likely will not satisfy the Supreme Court order in Gannon. Of course, this is speculation on our part. Only the justices have a say in what will satisfy their ruling, and we won’t try to speak for them.

We believe the formula in the House school finance bill is good and will be found to be constitutional. We remain skeptical about the adequacy level and we do not believe the House plan will be found to be adequately funded by the Supreme Court. The Senate plan provides even less funding. But the plans are what they are at this time. They won’t be changed unless the Court forces change. The Senate plan passed this morning will be taken to conference committee along with the House plan and a final plan will be hammered out and a vote taken. With a June 30 deadline approaching, the Court needs a plan. It’s time to get one out.

According to Legislative Counsel Jeff King, the Court will want to see that money is available to fund the school finance plan. CCR 2067 would have done this at least for two years and would have shown that the legislature made a good faith effort to fix the problem – even if that effort falls short and must be revisited under a subsequent Court ruling.

Tomorrow, the Legislature will run out of money allotted for this session. After that, each day they meet will require more tax dollars be spent to extend this session; money that could be used for our unbalanced budget.

We are not holding out hope for some divine intervention under which hard-right conservatives and the Governor actually decide that public education is worthy of adequate support. Or that the needed revenue to provide for our schools, roads, safety, and social service safety net is worth it. It now appears that it must be through judicial intervention that moves the Kansas Legislature to action. Perhaps it’s time to send something over to the Supreme Court.

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To tax or not to tax…

May 15, 2015 by

To tax or not to tax…

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles

And by opposing end them.

 

With apologies to Shakespeare, this seems to sum up where the Kansas Legislature finds itself.

Hamlet’s soliloquy is a statement by a depressed Prince Hamlet as he considers his own demise. He speaks about the unfairness of life and the pain associated with life but still acknowledges the alternative might (in the end) be worse.  The Kansas Legislature finds itself in a similar position as did Prince Hamlet as he struggled with life and death; to tax and face political demise or not to tax and leave the state and its citizens foundering.

Today on the floor of the House the latest effort to solve the state’s financial woes (SB 270) was defeated on a voice vote after a relatively short debate. The topics debated on the House floor relative to taxes were a reflection of those discussed in the House Appropriations Committee during the veto session. Not to be outdone by their colleagues across the rotunda, similar verbal skirmishes have been held in the Senate Tax Committee. The state is firmly in a fiscal crisis.

Some legislators approach solving the crisis by stating “we just need the cuts to have time to have an impact on the state.” Other legislators believe that they should only raise consumption taxes and leave small businesses and others alone. Some do not want to increase consumption taxes. Some legislators do not want to raise property taxes (local governments will need to do that to survive). Some want to increase property taxes especially in rural Kansas. Some do not want to slow down the income tax cuts while others want to slow those cuts down or eliminate them. Some would rather continue down the path of cutting more government services. What is clear is that there are myriad competing agendas and opinions.

Finally, there are many deep political divisions regarding how to raise state revenues (taxes). The depth of these divisions when paired with “to be or not to be” question has brought this legislative session to a very literal halt.

 

In other news under the dome:

The Senate Ways and Means Committee cancelled their meeting this morning.

The House and Senate go back into session Monday morning.

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Collective Bargaining Comparison

Mar 2, 2015 by

Click the “Read More” link below to view a comparison of the two collective bargaining bills working their way through the legislature right now.

 

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