Kansas Republicans’ campaign to stifle Gov. Laura Kelly tied to numbers 84 and 27

GOP, Democrats battling over veto-proof majorities in House, Senate

Avery Anderson, the Republican nominee for the Kansas House seat in Newton, explains why voters should reject the re-election bid of state Rep. Tim Hodge, a North Newton Demcorat, and help build a larger GOP majority in the Legislature. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Avery Anderson, the Republican nominee for the Kansas House seat in Newton, explains why voters should reject the re-election bid of state Rep. Tim Hodge, a North Newton Demcorat, and help build a larger GOP majority in the Legislature. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

NEWTON — The contest between Kansas House candidates Avery Anderson and Tim Hodge draws into focus the larger political battle among Republicans and Democrats for supremacy in the Kansas Capitol.

Re-election of Hodge, the incumbent Democrat who has served the 72nd District since 2017, could aid Gov. Laura Kelly whenever the Republican-led House and Senate considers overriding her veto of bills. Success for Anderson, a 22-year-old Republican fresh out of college, could make it easier for the GOP to thwart the Democratic governor’s will.

Kelly’s veto of tax, education, abortion, business loan and emergency power legislation during the past two years was a prime source of frustration Saturday among politicians at the Kansas Republican Party’s bus tour stops in Newton and El Dorado.

The magical two-thirds majority vote — minimum of 84 in the House, 27 in the Senate — required to override the Democratic governor in Kansas can be achieved by Republicans adhering to the party line. The partisan balance of power sits at 84-41 in the House and 29-11 in the Senate. In the November election, the GOP could hold their margin in the Senate. The battle on veto overrides is more intense in the House, where the Republican leadership has struggled more to push back against Kelly.

“We’ve been battling a governor that loves to veto our bills,” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican convinced Kelly habitually rejects “every single good piece” of legislation sent to her desk.

Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said during rallies in El Dorado and Newton the GOP needs to expand its majorities in the Legislature to override vetoes of bills by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Kansas House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican, said during rallies in El Dorado and Newton the GOP needs to expand its majorities in the Legislature to override vetoes of bills by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

He said the priority of GOP House leaderships was to avoid falling below 84 Republican members in that chamber. His preference would be to build to 88 or 90 GOP members, because “it gives us a little cushion to handle the governor.”

A spokeswoman for Kelly said Sunday outcome of the November election shouldn’t deter public officials from working collaboratively to strengthen the economy and respond to COVID-19.

“Governor Kelly is hopeful that once the November election is over that Republican leadership will join her in her efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and keep Kansas’ economy open for business,” said spokeswoman Lauren Fitzgerald.

In the United States, 42% of state legislatures possess partisan veto-proof majorities of one party or the other. Republicans have veto-proof majorities in 15 states, including Kansas. Democrats maintain them in six.

In downtown Newton, Hawkins took a moment to denounce Hodge “as anything but reasonable” and referenced the Democratic incumbent’s House floor speeches critical of Republican policy positions. It was a pat on the back for Anderson, a fresh-faced Republican who narrowly won a four-way primary for the GOP nomination in the 72nd District.

“I don’t think Tim Hodge represents our values,” said Anderson, who was an intern in the office of retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts.

Rep. Stephen Owens, a Hesston Republican, said lack of a Democrat in his race for re-election to the House meant there was time to campaign door-to-door on behalf of Anderson. Speaking broadly about the 2020 elections in the United States, Owens said he was convinced this was a moment in politics “where we are fighting good versus evil.”

Hodge, who won his House seat in 2016 with 51.1% of the vote and re-election in 2018 with 50.5%, wasn’t present to defend himself in Newton at the bus-tour appearance of Republican Party officials and candidates. Hodge couldn’t be reached Sunday for comment.

In El Dorado at the first stop on the GOP tour, the issue of two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate was on the mind of El Dorado Rep. Will Carpenter, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt and U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, who is seeking another term in Washington, D.C.

“This election really decides the direction and future of a great country and state,” said Carpenter, who didn’t wear a mask at the event and expressed irritation with Kelly’s handling of business shutdowns during the pandemic. “It’s so important with this governor that we have a veto-proof majority in both Senate and the House.”

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who isn't on the 2020 ballot, said voters need to maintain the GOP's two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House to more easily control the legislative process despite influence of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who isn’t on the 2020 ballot, said voters need to maintain the GOP’s two-thirds majorities in the Senate and House to more easily control the legislative process despite influence of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Schmidt, who isn’t on the ballot in 2020, said crafting an effective veto majority for Republicans was essential if the party’s members were to firmly govern the state as they did when Republicans Sam Brownback and Jeff Colyer were governor from 2011 to 2019.

“So we have the ability to govern in this state,” Schmidt said. “Not always play defense. Not always say, ‘What’s it take?’ But say, ‘What’s right? And, what ought to be done?’”

Kelly flexed her political muscle in 2020 by vetoing a collection of bills the Legislature was unwilling to override.

Her veto was sustained on a measure that would have required city and county governments to conduct public hearings and take a specific vote before spending property tax revenue increases. She also rejected a bill designed to restrict her emergency powers, which was intended by Republicans as a rebuke of her work on the pandemic. The governor subsequently signed a disaster-related reform bill altering her authority as governor.

In addition, Kelly this year vetoed a bill offering $60 million in low-interest loans to businesses and providing tax advantages to banks. Likewise, she rejected a bill that created a report card on the education of children in the state’s foster care system. She implemented a comparable report card by executive order.

In 2019, she issued vetoes on a pair of tax-cut bills crafted by Republicans. In March, she cut down a bill offering about $500 million in tax breaks over three years. It would have helped multinational companies and wealthy individuals sidestep state income taxes. Kelly vetoed a follow-up bill that reduced tax revenue by $240 million over a three-year period.

Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who took office in January 2019, hopes that after the November election members of both political parties can work more closely together on economic and health policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat who took office in January 2019, hopes that after the November election members of both political parties can work more closely together on economic and health policy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

In both instances, the Legislature failed to achieve the two-thirds majorities to override her.

“It will decimate the state’s ability to pay our bills and invest in our people,” Kelly wrote in her veto message last year. “Successful tax reform must be shaped by a thoughtful, big-picture vision — not by a rushed attempt to achieve an immediate political victory.”

Kelly vetoed a bill in 2019 a bill that required doctors and clinics to inform patients about a disputed treatment to “reverse” or halt a medication abortion after a woman took the first of two pills necessary to complete the procedure.

The Legislature did override the governor’s veto last year of a bill related to the state payment of $50 million owed the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System.

In addition, Republicans in the House and Senate are keen to bolster their majorities in an attempt to place on a statewide ballot an amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring Kansans don’t have an inherent constitutional right to an abortion. The proposed amendment was adopted in 2020 by the required two-thirds majority in the Senate, but fell short in the House.