Government & Politics

Kansas Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook of Shawnee is removed from chairmanship

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook The Associated Press

Kansas Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Shawnee Republican, was removed from a committee chairmanship Friday for adding an Obamacare amendment to an unrelated bill, a violation of Senate rules, said Senate President Susan Wagle.

Pilcher-Cook’s amendment would have forced a Senate vote on Medicaid expansion, which she opposes.

Wagle’s decision to oust Pilcher-Cook sparked a war of words between two conservative Republican senators.

Wagle said in a statement Saturday that the amendment put senators in the position of either upholding the rules of the Senate or being seen as supporting Obamacare. That was unacceptable, she said.

All senators are expected to follow the chamber’s rules, and committee chairs are expected to lead by example, she said. Pilcher-Cook was removed as chairman of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

“It showed complete disrespect for the body and its rules,” Wagle said. “I hope that Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s removal makes that point very clear.”

Pilcher-Cook, known for her deeply conservative social views, accused Wagle of playing politics.

“Instead of allowing members to stand on principle and vote their conscience, she seeks to push conservative principles aside and push her own political agenda,” she said in a statement.

Pilcher-Cook said last week was an opportune time to openly debate Medicaid expansion as the Affordable Care Act provision is being heralded by “special interest groups and Hillary Clinton.”

She claimed that Wagle supports Medicaid expansion, which “would have put her at odds with the vast majority of the Republican caucus, and she did not want a recorded vote.”

“It is very difficult for conservatives to work as a team in caucus when your view on Obamacare is the same as Hillary Clinton’s,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Therefore, the Senate president is seeking to punish me for shedding sunlight on her views.”

Wagle said Pilcher-Cook had it wrong.

“Finally, despite Sen. Pilcher-Cook’s statement to the contrary, I firmly oppose Obamacare, and the last thing Kansans need is a budget-busting expansion of the disaster that is Obamacare,” Wagle said. “Many members of the Kansas Senate have made similar statements over the past few years.”

Wagle said that the Senate in coming weeks will take up the issue of expanding the state’s Medicaid program, called KanCare, under the Affordable Care Act, so that there will be no question how senators stand. She said it will be clear that a majority of senators oppose expansion.

Wagle appointed Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Wichita Republican, as interim chairman.

Edward M. Eveld: 816-234-4442, @EEveld