Kansas Democrats campaigning to end GOP supermajorities in House, Senate

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, says the 2021 Legislature needs to work hard on a bill to legalize sports gambling because the state government needs the new revenue. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat, says the 2021 Legislature needs to work hard on a bill to legalize sports gambling because the state government needs the new revenue. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The math for Kansas Democrats looking into the crystal ball of November’s general election is the stuff of preschoolers.

House and Senate Democrats on a video call Wednesday in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention said their bottom line was simple: One plus three equals four. Their quest Nov. 3 is to extract from Republican control one seat in the House and three seats in the Senate.

That would end the GOP’s supermajorities in both chambers and make it easier for Democrats to protect vetoes by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat elected in 2018. The partisan realignment in the Legislature also would come into play when redrawing district boundaries for the Kansas House, Kansas Senate, U.S. House and state Board of Education following the 2020 Census.

To meet Democrats’ goal in the House, the minority party requires a minimum of 42 seats in the 125-member chamber. Republicans would be loathe to surrender the lone House seat dropping the GOP below 84. It’s easier for GOP leadership to keep a Republican representative from straying across the partisan boundary on controversial votes than to convince a Democrat to side with Republicans.

“We have a lot of really good candidates,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, of Wichita. “I like our odds of picking up that one seat.”

Kelly carried 65 of 125 House districts in the 2018 governor’s race. Twenty-four of the 65 districts are represented by Republicans. In those two dozen districts, Democrats put 21 candidates on the November ballot.

“I’m not asking for you to help us elect one or two,” said Rep. Valdenia Winn, a Democrat from Kansas City, Kan. “I’m asking you to help us elect 10 or 12. We want to flip as many seats as we can and stand stronger with the governor.”

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat and the first black woman elected to the Kansas Senate, said selection of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden will unite Democrats in November. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)
Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat and the first black woman elected to the Kansas Senate, said selection of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the running mate for former Vice President Joe Biden will unite Democrats in November. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said Democratic expansion of their Senate caucus to at least 14 would do away with the GOP supermajority. The Senate has 11 Democrats.

Looking back on the election of Kelly, he said, the governor won 21 of 40 Senate districts. She had double-digit margins in 17 of the 21 districts, he said.

“Our goal is to pick up three seats. We have the potential to pick up six or seven seats,” Hensley said.

In the August primary, conservative Republicans defeated a half-dozen incumbent moderate GOP senators.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, the first black woman elected to the Kansas Senate, said the selection by former Vice President Joe Biden of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate would bring Democratic voters together in November.

“I feel that they will united us,” the Wichita Democrat said. “I’m actually hopeful and extremely excited that they will move us into a better future for all. We keep hearing about ‘we the people,’ and I believe the Democratic ticket will show that.”