Kansas Legislative races: Kansas Democrats fall well short in effort to break Republican supermajority

By: - November 3, 2020 8:38 pm
The Kansas Department of Revenue reported tax revenue in the month of December exceeded projections and added to the cash cushion available to the 2022 Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

The Kansas Department of Revenue reported tax revenue in the month of December exceeded projections and added to the cash cushion available to the 2022 Legislature and Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Republicans retained their supermajority hold over the Kansas House and Senate on Tuesday, handing a crushing defeat to the Democratic Party despite record turnout and fundraising.

Many eyes were on the top of the ticket ahead of Tuesday’s election, but results in races for the Kansas Legislature could influence other elections for years to come with redistricting on the docket for the next batch of legislators.

Republicans have held a supermajority in the Kansas House for a decade and in the Kansas Senate for even longer. If Election Night results hold, Republicans will be able to override any vetoes made by Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat elected in 2018.

The Democratic Party’s easiest path to avoid this scenario was to flip one seat in the 125-member Kansas House. Flipping three seats in the 40-member Senate would have also done the trick.

Results thus far, albeit unofficial as more mail-in ballots and provisional ballots will be counted in the coming days, indicate Democrats won’t just fall short of that goal, they may lose seats. Republicans gained two seats in the state House and broke even in the Senate on Election Night.

In the 19th Senate District, Rick Kloos, the Republican nominee, defeated incumbent Anthony Hensley, the Kansas Legislature’s longest-serving member, by 800 votes. Kloos, who celebrated his victory at the Pizza Parlor in East Topeka, said he felt he was chosen for this moment.

“All of us were placed here for a reason and I believe that I was placed here to serve the people of District 19 and the state of Kansas for a reason,” Kloos said. “I will do my best to reach out and continue to reach out to the community around us.”

In the neighboring 18th Senate District, Kristen O’Shea, a Republican business owner, leads Tobias Schlingensiepen, a local pastor by 6,000 votes. Both sides had characterized the other as “too extreme” for Kansas.

Terry Frederick, a Republican, leads Democratic incumbent Jennifer Day with all precincts reporting in the 48th House District and 23-year old Avery Anderson, a Republican, knocked off Democratic Incumbent Tim Hodge in the 72nd House District.

In Johnson County, several competitive races garnered attention for their potential to flip from red to blue. Results show this is not likely to occur, barring an influx of by-mail or provisional ballots.

In the State House, Johnson County voters put their backing behind Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, for his fifth consecutive term. Democratic challenger Kathy Meyer fell short by over 600 votes.

“I’m proud to have run on our record of common sense,” Ryckman said. “Together, I know we can get our schools, our economy and our lives safely back to normal.”

Republican nominee Beverly Gossage, 21,688 votes, holds a lead over Democratic nominee Stacey Knoell, 19,641 votes in the 9th Senate District with all precincts reporting. Gossage was chosen to replace Sen. Julia Lynn, who withdrew to provide care for her sister.

The 8th Senate District, the vacancy left by retiring Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, did flip as Democratic nominee Cindy Holscher, who currently represents the 16th House District, leads Republican opponent James Todd by just under 3,500 votes with all precincts reporting.

Next door in the 7th Senate District, the Democratic seat vacated by U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier, newcomer Ethan Corson, the Democratic nominee, leads Laura McConwell, the Republican Nominee, by nearly 9,000 votes with all precincts reporting.

Kansans will have to wait beyond Tuesday night for results in some legislative races, although it appears the supermajority will hold. Thousands of by-mail ballots have yet to be returned, and provisional and write-in ballots will not be counted until after the election.

In Wyandotte County, that means Democratic incumbent Stan Frownfelter, who launched a write-in campaign after losing to 19-year old Aaron Coleman in the primary, will have to wait to see any votes for him counted. Republican Kristina Smith is also running a write-in campaign in the 37th, a district that leans strongly Democratic.

When votes are counted, it appears Coleman will take home the victory. The Wyandotte County election office reported Coleman received 3,496 and thus far only 2,013 write-in ballots have been cast for any candidate.

The outcome is not likely to affect the fight for or against the Republican-held supermajority, barring a miracle comeback from Smith.

With all seats up for reelection in both the State House and the Senate, Democrats had felt confident in their ability to flip the needed seats.

“We are in a good place,” Kelly said before the majority of results came in. “We have Democrats all across the state running really aggressive campaigns to take back our state.”

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat currently in the lead in the 95th House District, echoed Kelly in confidence that the Republican supermajority would end this election cycle.

Democrats raised a record amount of money this election cycle, Sawyer said. 

The outcome of the 2020 election could have a lasting impact because the legislators elected this year will be tasked with redrawing lines for federal congressional districts and state legislative districts based on results from the 2020 census. With a supermajority, Republicans could dismiss any vetoes made by the governor on their maps.

Attention to redistricting has increased in the wake of retiring Senate President Susan Wagle’s call to redraw districts to the advantage of Republicans.

“So redistricting, it’s right around the corner. And if Governor Kelly can veto a Republican bill that gives us four Republican congressmen that takes out Sharice Davids up in the 3rd — we can do that,” Wagle told a gathering of Republicans in September. “I guarantee you we can draw four Republican congressional maps. But we can’t do it unless we have a two-thirds majority in the Senate and House.”

Wagle’s comments inflamed Democrats who accused state GOP legislators of using gerrymandering tactics to benefit their agenda rather than the needs of Kansans. The Kansas Democratic Party called on Republican legislators and candidates to reject Wagle’s position and instead support a bipartisan approach. 

“Instituting a nonpartisan redistricting commission would guarantee fair electoral maps in 2020,” said KDP chair Vicki Hiatt. “Voters should choose their elected officials, not the other way around.”

If Democrats had been able to break the Republican supermajority, GOP legislators would have needed to work with the other party to guarantee the maps were approved by Kelly.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.