Preliminary vote counts from Tuesday’s election in Kansas indicated state Olathe Rep. Charlotte Esau, would be the lone Republican House incumbent ousted by a Democrat. The GOP will still hold a supermajority in the House to deal with a second term for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)
TOPEKA — Republicans preserved a two-thirds supermajority in the Kansas House to mirror the GOP-dominated Kansas Senate and keep in place this substantial legislative barrier in a second term for Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
Unofficial results from the Kansas secretary of state’s office indicated Democrats ousted one incumbent GOP state representative in Johnson County, but fell two House seats short of unraveling the GOP’s ability to override the governor’s vetoes on strict party lines.
Voters determined Republicans in the House would wield an 85-40 advantage over Democrats when the 2023 session started in January. The Kansas Senate, with a lone special election on the ballot Tuesday won by a Republican, will operate with the majority party holding a 29-11 advantage over the minority party. The full Senate doesn’t face reelection until 2024.
Republican have possessed large numerical advantages in both the Senate and House since 1992. Thirty years ago, there were 59 Democrats in the 125-member House. Representation by Democrats plummeted to a low of 28 in 2014, but has hovered around 40 since then.
“Eighty-five Republicans. Forty Democrats. Republican supermajority retained,” said Rep.-elect Rebecca Schmoe, an Ottawa Republican who defeated Democrat Darrell McCune of Ottawa. “Words cannot express how grateful I am and how humbling it is to be counted as one of those 85.”
Supermajorities in the House and Senate mean Republicans have greater opportunity to block or impose laws on taxation, abortion, education, budgets, guns, medical or recreational marijuana and health care, including Kelly’s quest to expand eligibility for Medicaid.
In addition, two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate are necessary to place on statewide ballots proposed amendments to the Kansas Constitution. While voters overwhelmingly defeated an anti-abortion constitutional amendment in August, champions of broader restrictions or outright bans on abortion could return to that agenda in the Legislature.
‘Break my leg’
Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Democrat from Overland Park who flipped her party affiliation in 2018, easily prevailed against Republican Nicholas Reddell of Prairie Village.
“I appear to have won my election with 62% of the vote. It would have been cheaper to hire someone to break my legs,” Clayton said.
Wichita Rep. Nick Hoheisel, a Republican with no general election opponent, coasted to a third term in the House. He urged disappointed and celebratory candidates to keep in mind the value of public service.
“Good people won last night and good people lost last night,” Hoheisel said. “Always remain humble and show grace and appreciation. Thank you to those who were willing to put your names on the line. It’s not always fun, but it’s what makes democracy work.”
If preliminary returns hold, Rep. Charlotte Esau, a conservative Republican first elected to the House in 2018, would lose her Johnson County seat to Democrat Dennis Miller.
Leaders in at least seven House races, at this stage, held advantages of less than 200 votes. Counting of advance ballots and provisional ballots will take place in the next week or so before certification of official results.
The list of cliffhanger races includes that of Rep. Matt Bingesser, an Olathe Republican appointed this year to complete the unexpired term of GOP Rep. John Toplikar. Bingesser trails Democrat Allison Hougland, who has 2,825 votes to Bingesser’s 2,733.
Rep. Chuck Schmidt, an Olathe Democrat appointed in 2021 following resignation of Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Bishop, was losing to Republican Sandy Pickert. The current vote totals: Pickert, 2,910; Schmidt, 2,717.
Micah Kubic, executive director of the ACLU of Kansas, said an affiliated organization invested $250,000 in a voter-education project in four legislative districts in Johnson County. In three of the four House races, including Miller’s race against Esau, candidates taking public positions supporting reproductive freedom and voting rights were victorious and party control of those seats shifted to Democrats.
“Election night is far from a conclusion, but rather a beginning,” Kubic said. “The ACLU of Kansas looks forward to beginning this new chapter of working with elected officials on strengthening our democracy.”
His comments about abortion rights centered on three House races with winning margins ranging from 93 to 184 votes.
That includes Hougland’s lead over Bingesser in the 15th District. Esau’s total of 5,296 trailed Miller’s 5,480 in the 14th District. And, in the 49th District, Democrat Brad Boyd had 4,643 votes and Republican Kristin Clark had 4,518.
Meager dose of drama
In the 2022 election cycle, two-thirds the state’s voters couldn’t experience drama of a general election showdown in the Kansas House. Fifty-five of the state’s 125 House seats were decided long ago because only one candidate filed. Other House contests were decided in the August primary.
Democrat Courtney Tripp of De Soto, who lost Tuesday to Republican Adam Turk of Shawnee in 117th District, said the redistricting process controlled by House and Senate Republicans set the stage for her challenging campaign. The district reaches into two counties, two congressional districts, four state Senate districts, four cites and rural Douglas County.
She said some viewed the district as an easy win for Republicans, but preliminary vote totals showed it was competitive with Turk with 5,517 and Tripp at 5,086.
“Our district is rural, small town and suburban not to mention it’s now home to the largest economic development project in the history of Kansas,” said Tripp, noting plans for a $4 billion Panasonic production facility. “This district will continue to grow and change and the people here will still need and deserve strong advocates.”
House minority leader
Wichita Rep. Tom Sawyer, leader of the House Democratic caucus, said the election would bring new faces and fresh perspectives to the Legislature.
He said House Democratic candidates knocked on thousands of doors to win votes of their neighbors and to help bring Gov. Laura Kelly across the finish line.
“In January,” Sawyer said, “we’ll keep fighting for expanding access to quality and affordable healthcare, including medical marijuana, eliminating state sales taxes on food, hygiene products and over-the-counter medications.”
House Democrats also plan to seek reductions in property taxes, defend Kansans’ constitutional rights from government overreach and fully fund schools, including special education.
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