Topeka A conservative Republican will be in charge of the Kansas House of Representatives when the Legislature returns in January to tackle the worsening state fiscal crisis.
Rep. Doug Mays of Topeka on Monday was elected speaker by his fellow House Republicans, receiving 40 votes on the first ballot against two moderate Republicans: Kenny Wilk of Lansing, who received 21 votes, and Mike O'Neal of Hutchinson, 18 votes. Because 79 of the 80 House Republicans showed up, Mays received the exact number of votes needed to win.
Last session, Mays led the charge against tax increases, but he eventually voted for the $252 million tax package that was needed to temporarily balance the budget.
Mays vowed to try to mend the conservative-moderate rift among Republicans, and to reach out to both Gov.-elect Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat, and Democratic House members, who elected Dennis McKinney of Greensburg as their leader.
Speaking about problems within the Republican Party, Mays said, "We have to respect the fact that we are not all alike. We have to come together as a caucus."
Evidence of the intraparty squabbling was the fact that each of the six leadership races within the GOP was contested.
Mays will replace Kent Glasscock of Manhattan, a moderate Republican who lost a bid for lieutenant governor.
The election of House leaders came as November tax revenue receipts fell $21 million, or 8 percent, below projections. The state already is facing a $312 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, with estimates of a nearly $800 million gap for the next fiscal year.
Mays said he won't be wearing "no tax" buttons this session, saying that would not be appropriate as the speaker.
He said he wanted to give Sebelius time to present her budget proposals but that he didn't see a way out of the fiscal mess without cutting some public school funding, which is about half the state budget. Sebelius has promised to maintain public school funding.
The 52-year-old Mays was former Gov. Mike Hayden's campaign coordinator and then was selected by Hayden to be the state's securities commissioner. Mays was elected to the House in 1992. In 2000, Mays ran for speaker but lost to Glasscock by one vote after four rounds of balloting.
McKinney, 42, a farmer, was elected Democratic leader without opposition. He will replace Jim Garner of Coffeyville, who ran unsuccessfully for insurance commissioner.
McKinney said he didn't see Mays' victory as speaker as evidence that the House was more conservative. He described Mays as "pretty practical."
He said having Mays as House speaker would not make it more difficult for Sebelius, who appealed to moderate Republicans in the election.
"Kathleen Sebelius will be very engaged in the legislative process working with Republicans and Democrats from the outset. The coalitions will vary from issue to issue," McKinney said.
Mays said he didn't see his election as a "conservative" victory, and others agreed.
"I think they (Republican House members) rewarded longevity and service, and with 22 freshmen Republicans in the House, I don't think we know where the body is," with respect to ideology, said Rep. Tom Sloan, a Lawrence Republican.