The Buzz

Overland Park Republicans pick Kleeb’s replacement for Kansas Legislature

A group of local Republicans voted Thursday for Overland Park radiologist Abraham Rafie to replace outgoing Rep. Marvin Kleeb.

Kleeb, who was seen as a leading Republican on financial matters in the state, announced earlier this month that he was retiring. Kleeb’s move came roughly a month after he was re-elected to another term.

The local precinct Republicans in the 48th district picked Kleeb’s successor during a brief meeting Thursday night. The district covers part of Overland Park.

The 36-year-old Rafie said in a phone interview Thursday night that he moved to Overland Park from Houston, Texas around a year and a half ago. He knocked doors for Sen. Jerry Moran’s recent re-election campaign and said he got a sense of the frustration area voters felt this year.

“I think Kansans want a budget that works, that makes sense, that’s fair and for the state to be fiscally responsible,” Rafie said. “I think there will be some tough decisions in the next session, but I think with that there’s a lot of opportunity for us to come out stronger at the end of it. We do have some significant budget issues facing us. Expectations need to be appropriate”

Because Kleeb stepped down after winning the seat in November, local Republicans were allowed to pick his replacement. Fifteen of the 18 precinct members voted for Rafie, according to Kansas Republican Party executive director Clay Barker.

“He can’t be a substitute for Kleeb because Kleeb was too much of a major influence on fiscal and tax issues, which is something you just pick up with experience,” Barker said. “He’ll have to come in ... he knows the district fairly well from walking it, but he’ll have to learn the ropes and the issues. He did a pretty good job of not pinning himself down on any specific proposal, tax increase, or budget cutting, tonight, which is a wise thing to do when you’re new and still learning.”

Rafie will join a large class of freshmen lawmakers in Topeka who will face a budget shortfall of around $348 million when they officially start next month.

And a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court in the Gannon v. Kansas school finance case is also looming on the horizon, as lawmakers prepare to work on a new school finance formula before the block grants that are in place expire next year.

“Everybody, I think, recognizes that we have a very significant budget issue in Kansas,” Rafie said. “I think, like the (incoming House Speaker Ron Ryckman) mentioned, you know, we need to come to the table with open minds and open hearts towards working with all ideological bents of the House.”

Kleeb, who has served in the legislature since 2009, won re-election on Nov. 8 with 58 percent of the vote. He worked as the chairman of the House taxation committee before announcing his retirement.

But in mid-December, Kleeb said he and his fiancee had agreed that it was time to step away from politics. Their wedding is scheduled for December 23.

Kleeb will officially leave his Overland Park seat on January 10, the second day of the legislative session. Rafie is expected to take over the seat at that point.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw