Rep. John Rubin of Shawnee said Tuesday he was considering resigning his seat in the Kansas Legislature after House Speaker Ray Merrick stripped him and another Republican of their committee chairmanships.
The removals were announced on the House floor.
“I was relieved as chairman by the speaker today in a very open and public way,” Rubin said. “I’m considering resigning my seat in the House of Representatives.”
Merrick removed Rubin as chairman of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee. He also also removed Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican, as Rules Committee chairman.
Merrick made the moves after a rules dispute on the House floor Tuesday.
Rubin tried unsuccessfully to bring a bill up for floor debate, a bill that included a gaming provision. Once allowed on the floor, the bill could have been amended on a range of gaming topics.
Rubin, Barker and others wanted to engage a debate about readjusting the tax structure for reopening dog and horse racetracks, legislators said. Merrick objected, and the Rules Committee, even though headed by Barker, sided with Merrick that the bill couldn’t be debated.
Merrick said he had a “very heavy heart” in ousting Rubin and Barker. In a written statement, he cited the attempt to “manipulate the House rules” to pull a bill out of committee despite a hearing scheduled Wednesday in the House Appropriations Committee.
“There is the possibility that expanding gaming in Kansas could result in the state being forced to pay over $100 million to the current operators of the state owned casinos,” Merrick said. “The Appropriations committee will give this issue a fair hearing and will allow both sides to make their case.”
Rubin, who decided earlier he was not seeking re-election in the fall, is in the midst of shepherding a major reform of state juvenile justice law.
“It’s pretty terrible,” said Rubin, a retired federal judge and an advocate of government transparency. “I’ve put in hundreds of hours on juvenile justice reform.”
Rubin declined to comment further.
Legislators were shocked by the speed of the move against Rubin — and the public nature of the action.
“So sudden, so dramatic, so public,” said Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican.
Last year, the conservative house speaker removed Bollier, a retired physician, and two other moderates from the House Health and Human Services Committee. That move was less public but also sudden, she said.
“It wasn’t discussed with me,” Bollier said, “it was just done.”
Merrick’s swift decision about Rubin was worrisome, she said.
“The appearance is that if you question or challenge or try to utilize the rules about something the speaker doesn’t approve of, there will be retribution. And that concerns me in a democracy.”
Rep. Melissa Rooker, a Fairway Republican and a moderate, also was concerned about the move.
“There is a lot of pressure on lawmakers to fix things,” Rooker said, “but this is very illustrative of the environment we’re in, with leadership that has a preferred direction and will not brook any deviation from that path.”
Rep. Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, called Merrick’s move “the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever seen,” noting that Rubin and Barker are conservatives.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” Ward said. “They just disagreed about an issue. This speaker has been very much opposed to a diversity of ideas. He’s really using bully tactics.”
Last month, Senate President Susan Wagle of Wichita ousted Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, from a committee chairmanship over what Wagle said was Pilcher-Cook’s attempt to force a Senate vote on Medicaid expansion.
Merrick appointed Rep. Ramon Gonzalez, a Perry Republican, to chair of Corrections and Juvenile Justice and Rep. Jan Pauls, a Hutchinson Republican, to chair the Rules Committee.