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Democrat Sawyer steps away from leadership post; Hawkins seeks job of Kansas House speaker

By: - November 22, 2022 5:20 pm
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Wichita, said Tuesday he wouldn't seek reappointment to the job during the 2023 legislative session, saying it was time for a new generation of Democrats to lead. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Democrat from Wichita, said Tuesday he wouldn’t seek reappointment to the job during the 2023 legislative session, saying it was time for a new generation of Democrats to lead. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas House Democratic leader Tom Sawyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1986, said Tuesday he didn’t intend to seek the leadership job entering the 2023 session.

The announcement that Sawyer would step aside but remain in the House followed decisions by House Speaker Ron Ryckman and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, both Republicans, not to seek reelection in 2022. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, who was reelected, is expected to be chosen by peers to serve as House speaker for the two-year legislative cycle.

Sawyer, of Wichita, was House majority leader from 1991 to 1992, House minority leader from 1993 to 1998 and House minority leader since 2018. His final day in that role would be Jan. 9.

“Upon deep reflection, I believe it is time for me to step back and allow the caucus to have a new leader who will lead us and Kansans towards achieving these important goals,” Sawyer said. “It has been an honor of a lifetime to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead our caucus over the many years.”

Voting in the August primary and November general election left House Republicans with a two-thirds majority important when considering vetoes of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Democrats gained one seat to bring the caucus to 40 in the 125-member House. Democrats fell two seats short of breaking the GOP supermajority and offer more assistance to Kelly during her second term.

Sawyer, who ran for governor in 1998 and served four years as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said he expected Democrats to expand their numbers in the House.

“This growth, which I hope to see continue in the coming years, will strengthen our position to advocate strongly for the issues that matter most to Kansans, such as tax relief, expanding Medicaid, fully funding public education including special education and legalizing medicinal marijuana,” he said.

Hawkins, who has served in the House since 2013, outlined in a letter to House Republicans a critique of the governor. He said Kelly botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowed crime and inflation to rise and made anti-abortion policy an “afterthought.”

Individuals elected in November to serve in the 2023 Legislature will vote Dec. 5 on nominees for House speaker, House majority leader and House speaker pro tem as well as the top Democratic posts in the chamber.

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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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