Kansas House Republicans have re-elected Ray Merrick to a second, two-year term as speaker. The representative from Stilwell was challenged by fellow conservative Virgil Peck, but Merrick easily won in an 80-16 vote.
“I would like to think that most of them have seen me for two years and know what I’ve done and what we got accomplished and I think it validates that,” says Merrick.
Merrick says one of his priorities this session will be finding ways to fill a budget hole. He says he’ll focus on spending cuts, rather than raising revenues.
House Democrats elected a new leader to replace Paul Davis, who gave up his seat to run for governor.
Tom Burroughs, from Kansas City, Kansas, will serve as the House minority leader. He defeated Jim Ward, of Wichita, 17-11.
Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick will hold on to his position as the top lawmaker in that chamber. Republicans have re-elected him for a second two-year term. As KPR's Stephen Koranda reports, he faced a challenge from Virgil Peck, a fellow conservative Republican from Tyro.
Representative Randy Garber, from Sabetha, spoke in favor of Peck, specifically touting his budget experience.
“With the revenue shortfalls we are experiencing, his time served as a member of the Appropriations Committee and chair of the budget committee will be a valuable asset as we make tough decisions concerning our current budget as well as the future years,” says Garber.
But Peck ultimately didn’t put up a big challenge. Representative John Barker, from Abilene, supported Merrick and pointed to his track record.
“With his leadership, it has been reported that the last legislative session was one of the most productive and successful in recent history,” say Barker.
Barker says Merrick has an open-door policy to discuss issues with legislators.
Merrick was praised for building consensus among Republicans and credited with helping them pick up additional seats in this year’s election.
Merrick, from the Johnson County town of Stilwell, won re-election by an 80-16 vote, and he credits his experience in the office.
“Most of them have seen me for two years and know what I’ve done and what we got accomplished and I think it validates that,” says Merrick.
Merrick’s first term wasn’t without controversy. It was under his tenure that the House passed a so-called religious freedom bill last session that attracted criticism and later died in the Senate.
Recently, he caught attention for comments about state employees, saying they “produce nothing.” He says he was talking about the state budget and believes House Republicans understood.
“I wasn’t saying anything derogatory about state employees, they do things that we need to have done. My point was economics 101,” says Merrick.
Merrick’s challenger, Virgil Peck, also has caught headlines. In 2011 he apologized for a comment comparing illegal immigrants to feral hogs, which are hunted from helicopters.
Right now, Merrick says fixing a budget hole is one of his top priorities. Some republicans have hinted the state should look at amending tax cuts passed in recent years. Merrick says he’d rather look at spending cuts.
“I’m a little confused that you’d come out making those suggestions on the front end and not look at the spending first,” says Merrick.
Democrats in the House also chose their new leaders. Outgoing minority leader Paul Davis left his seat to unsuccessfully run for governor.
Democrats chose Tom Burroughs, from Kansas City, Kansas, to lead the caucus. He set a tone that says he’s willing to work with Republicans, who have a big majority.
“Good policy knows no partisan politics. And I stand ready to do what I can to ensure that this caucus has a chance to at least advance their issues and speak up and speak out in reference to policy decisions that will come forth from the majority party,” says Burroughs.
Burroughs defeated Wichita Democrat Jim Ward for the job. Ward sent a more combative message.
Representative John Wilson, from Lawrence, decided to support Burroughs.
“Those folks who are ready to be vocal and fight have the authority to do that. But we need to make sure that at the end of the day our leadership can build bridges where we can and stand firm where we can’t,” says Wilson.
The newly elected leaders of both parties will take over their jobs in earnest when the Legislature convenes in January.