Rep. Carolyn Bridges will step down from her seat in the Kansas Legislature before lawmakers return to Topeka next month.
Serving in the Legislature has become too difficult to handle emotionally, said Bridges, a Democrat who was a school principal in Wichita for 25 years before being elected in 2012.
“All of us in public education are just beat up daily by the people who don’t believe in public education. … It’s been brutal the past three years and it will just be intolerable this year,” said Bridges, a member of the House Education Committee. “So I think there needs to be someone who maybe won’t take it as personally as I have.”
All of us in public education are just beat up daily by the people who don’t believe in public education.
Rep. Carolyn Bridges, a Wichita Democrat, on her decision to leave the Kansas Legislature
She said she was often disheartened by the rhetoric other committee members used when talking about teachers.
Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and the committee’s chair, said he was sorry to hear Bridges felt that way. He said that he worked hard to make sure both sides were heard at committee hearings and that there was never an intention to attack teachers.
“We all have to develop a thick skin or an open mind, one of the two, and listen to all the information and not just one side,” Highland said. “… You know, I hear things that I don’t like too, but that’s just part of it. You’ve got to listen to all of it.”
We all have to develop a thick skin or an open mind, one of the two.
Rep. Ron Highland, a Wamego Republican and chair of the House Education Committee
During Bridges’ time on the committee, it has had hearings on bills that would weaken teachers’ collective bargaining power, eliminate the Common Core curriculum and bar relatives of teachers from serving on local school boards. Those bills failed to become law, but Bridges said the discussions took an emotional toll.
The Legislature passed a law in 2014 that eliminated a state mandate that school districts hold administrative hearings before a teacher can be fired.
Bridges will make her resignation official Sunday. She represents House District 83, in east Wichita and Eastborough.
A precinct committee of Sedgwick County Democrats will select a replacement to serve through 2016.
Chris Pumpelly, a Wichita native who worked as Democrat Paul Davis’ campaign spokesman during the 2014 gubernatorial race, said he intends to seek the seat.
“Rep. Bridges has served her district and the people of Kansas honorably and her constituents are lucky to have her as their representative. I would be honored to carry on her (Bridges’) legacy of fighting for the people of the 83rd District against Gov. Brownback’s destructive policies,” Pumpelly said in an e-mail.
Voter records show Pumpelly isn’t registered in Bridges’ district. He is registered as a Democrat in District 87 at a house on Burr Oak Road. That district, which is represented by Republican Rep. Mark Kahrs, borders District 83. Pumpelly said in an e-mail that he plans to move to District 83. He emphasized that he grew up in east Wichita.
When Pumpelly was Davis’ spokesman in 2014, he was registered as a Republican in Lawrence. When asked about switching parties, he said, “Sam Brownback’s despicable actions then and since made my decision easy.” He said he would push for more investment in education, a fair tax system, and equality for gay and lesbian Kansans.
Bridges, who turns 70 next year, said she did not plan to run again in 2016 and did not think it would be fair to her constituents for her to stay in office.
“I think it’s time for somebody to come in who says, ‘I’m going to be there for a while,’ ” she said.
“I want to work in my yard in the spring and play with my grandbabies.”
Bridges will also help mobilize support for Hillary Clinton during the Kansas Democratic caucuses in March.
She had served on the House Taxation Committee, where she was an outspoken critic of Gov. Sam Brownback’s policies during the marathon session in which lawmakers struggled to pass a tax plan earlier this year.
Democrats expressed disappointment to see Bridges leave.
“There’s no doubt that Rep. Bridges was an independent voice in the Legislature, not only on educational issues but also women’s rights issues and a host of other matters,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat. “And her willingness to stand up for her constituents and for the things that she believed in will be sorely missed.”
Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, called Bridges’ departure “an extreme loss for us.”
“With her experience as a principal and educator … she was one of those strong voices who told it the way it was,” Finney said. “I’m really going miss having her as part of our caucus up there.”