Senate president strips three GOP colleagues of committee assignments

Pyle, Straub and Steffen initially voted against congressional redistricting map

By: - February 10, 2022 8:10 pm
Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson moved Thursday to strip committee assignments for three GOP senators who threw a wrench into his plan Monday to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a congressional redistricting map. The veto was completed on a second vote Tuesday.(Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson moved Thursday to strip committee assignments for three GOP senators who threw a wrench into his plan Monday to override Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a congressional redistricting map. The veto was completed on a second vote Tuesday.(Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Senate President Ty Masterson let the dust settle Thursday on the congressional redistricting map debate before sanctioning three Republican colleagues for initially refusing to support the veto override of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

Masterson relied on his unilateral authority as elected leader of the Senate to remove Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha from the Senate’s transportation and utilities committees. He stripped Sen. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson of membership on the Senate tax committee and removed him as vice chairman of the Senate commerce committee.

Sen. Alicia Straub, who is from Ellinwood, lost seats on the Senate’s local government committee and the chamber’s transparency and ethics committee. She also surrendered her vice chairmanship of the Senate agriculture committee.

“To maintain unity in the caucus,” Masterson said, “these changes were necessary.”

Kelly, who is seeking re-election in 2022, vetoed the map recasting boundaries of the state’s four congressional districts. She objected to the GOP’s strategy of moving a large number of Wyandotte County’s minority voters into the 2nd District served by U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican. The GOP map softened the blow for LaTurner by transferring Lawrence from his district to the 1st District represented by U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, also a Republican.

The underlying objective for scrambling the boundaries was to weaken potential of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the state’s lone Democrat in the federal delegation, when she runs for re-election later this year.

On Monday, the Kansas Senate scheduled the override vote requiring support from two-thirds of senators, or 27 of the chamber’s 40 members. Steffen, Straub and Pyle joined Senate Democrats to block the override bid. On the rebound Tuesday, Steffen and Straub changed their votes to “yes,” which secured the minimum 27 votes for the override, while Pyle changed his vote to “pass.”

Steffen said after the override that he remained disappointed with the map contained in Senate Bill 355 because the large, agrarian 1st District shouldn’t have to host Lawrence after the district previously was compelled to absorb Manhattan.

“Ten years ago, redistricting brought us liberal Manhattan,” Steffen said. “Now, they are dumping the Lawrence liberals in our lap. Just like illegal hunting killed off our buffalo in the 1800s, insidious redistricting will kill off the true conservative character of my beloved Big First.”

The Kansas House completed the override with less drama, compiling 85 of 125 votes to affirm implementation of the congressional map known as Ad Astra 2.

Lynn Rogers, the Democratic state treasurer and former lieutenant governor to Kelly, said the GOP leadership’s backroom deals succeeded in imposing the gerrymandered map on Kansans. The new map is expected to be the target of lawsuits contesting movement of minority voters away from their communities of interest.

“We face an expensive court battle over district lines that they very likely will not win, but that will be an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars,” Rogers said. “Up and down the ballot, we need to elect more Kansan Democrats to keep a check on the Kansas GOP.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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