Topeka — The election may be over, but the politicking in the race for speaker of the Kansas House has just begun.
Republicans will hold an 80-45 edge in the House when the 2003 Legislature opens Jan. 13. But Monday's secret ballot among three Republican candidates for speaker will determine whether conservatives or moderates control the Republican majority.
"It's kind of like being a freshman during rush week of a sorority or fraternity," said Rep. Bob Bethell, R-Alden, referring to the phone calls, letters and sometimes even personal visits leading up to the vote.
The tight three-way race features Republican state Reps. Mike O'Neal of Hutchinson, Doug Mays of Topeka, and Kenny Wilk of Lansing. Mays is seen as the favorite of conservative House members, with Wilk and O'Neal splitting the moderate vote. One of them will replace outgoing Republican speaker Kent Glasscock of Manhattan.
In the House, the speaker appoints committee chairs and members of the committees. That means he has considerable influence in determining what kind of legislation the committees produce.
Bethell, whose 113th District covers much of western Reno County, won't be voting for O'Neal - at least, not on the first ballot.
Bethell said Wilk reached out to him even before he won his first election to the House in 1998, and that "long-standing relationship" figured in his decision to support Wilk.
"It is a big deal," said Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Hays. "It's going to be one of the most important votes that I make and the hardest one that I make, because I like all three that are running for the speaker's job."
On the Democratic side, Rep. Dennis McKinney of Greensburg currently is the lone candidate for minority leader, a post held by Rep. Jim Garner of Coffeyville, who did not seek re-election. Garner waged an unsuccessful campaign for insurance commissioner.
The post of majority leader is being sought by three GOP members: Reps. John Edmonds of Great Bend, chairman of the Taxation Committee; Clay Aurand of Courtland, speaker pro tem; and Don Dahl of Hillsboro, chairman of the Committee on Special Claims against the State.