Government & Politics

GOP legislation would curtail Kelly’s power to fill vacancies that could be upcoming

Kelly vows to rebuild Kansas with focus on schools, foster care, Medicaid during State of the State address

Gov. Laura Kelly vowed to fully fund Kansas public schools and not raise taxes — a promise some Republicans predict she can’t keep — during her first State of the State address Wednesday in Topeka.
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Gov. Laura Kelly vowed to fully fund Kansas public schools and not raise taxes — a promise some Republicans predict she can’t keep — during her first State of the State address Wednesday in Topeka.

Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s power to fill vacancies in some top state posts would be stripped and given to party leadership under new legislation introduced in the House.

Under the state Constitution, the governor holds the power to appoint a replacement if the office of the attorney general or secretary of state becomes vacant. HCR 5013, however, would allow the legislature to move that power to party delegates. The system would work much in the same way legislative vacancies are filled now, Rep. Blake Carpenter, R-Derby, said.

“More or less we’re just modeling the appointment process after how we appoint legislators,” Carpenter said.

The appointment power would fall to the delegates of whichever party last held the executive office. For example, if Attorney General Derek Schmidt, a Republican, were to leave, it would be up to to the Republican party to choose a replacement.

It “allows both parties to have a fair shake,” Carpenter said.

The measure was introduced on Friday, April 5, the last day of the session, according to legislative records. It was not introduced in a meeting, and lists no individual sponsors, just the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Several members of the committee said they were not aware of the proposal.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, the committee chair, said he didn’t know much about the legislation and then asked not to be contacted until after his vacation.

“I’m on a beach in South Carolina,” Barker said on Monday.

A second bill, HB 2410, would remove the governor’s power to fill vacancies in the offices of the state treasurer and insurance commissioner. The bill was requested for introduction on March 25, also by Carpenter.

The legislation may be a sign that Republicans are expecting top leaders to depart before their terms end in 2022. State Treasurer Jake LaTurner has already announced his candidacy for U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ seat in 2020. Earlier this year, Attorney General Derek Schmidt expressed also expressed interest in running for the senate.

Neither House Speaker Ron Ryckman nor Kelly’s office returned requests for comment on Monday. Lawmakers return to Topeka on May 1, after which it is likely that HCR 5013 will get a formal hearing.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, D-Overland Park, sits on the Federal and State Affairs committee, and upon reading the legislation, called it “morally wrong.”

“How can the people trust us when we are making laws based on political gain as opposed to how to best structure and run our democratic system that we have here in the state of Kansas?” Clayton said.

Carpenter, however, disagreed.

“This isn’t ruining the democratic process, this isn’t ruining the system, we already have a system in place,” he said.

Kelly has stumbled in her first months with executive appointees. In March she withdrew District Court Judge Jeffry Jack from consideration for a spot on the State Court of Appeals and weeks later, faced criticism over her pick of David Toland for secretary of commerce. While Toland was ultimately confirmed by a Senate vote, both appointees were criticized for their partisan social media activity.

Earlier versions of this article incorrectly reported the details of HCR 5013. It also omitted mention of HB 2410.

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