Topeka — On Jan. 13, Mark Buhler will become the most inexperienced member of the Kansas Senate.
"My learning curve is going to be steep," the 48-year-old Buhler conceded, adding he was anxious to learn and serve his constituents during one of the worst fiscal crises in state history.
The Lawrence Republican will take over the seat held for the past 10 years by Sandy Praeger, who was elected state insurance commissioner.
Because Senate seats were not up for election this year, Buhler is one of only two new members in the Senate -- the other is Republican Bill Bunten of Topeka, who will fill the last two years of Lynn Jenkins' term. Jenkins was elected state treasurer. While Bunten has no Senate experience, he served in the Kansas House for 28 years from 1963-1991.
After Praeger's election to statewide office in November, Buhler was elected to replace her during a Dec. 3 meeting of the Douglas County Republican Party Central Committee. He captured the minimum required 47 votes of the 91 votes cast. Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, received 39 votes, and John Watkins received five votes.
While he lacks legislative experience, Buhler has long been involved in local politics, serving eight years as a Douglas County commissioner and twice as chairman.
Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, said Buhler's experience on the county commission would be helpful because much of what the Legislature does affects local governments.
"It's not like he is coming into this process totally green," Findley said. "We have new legislators coming on board all the time. I think Mark will do just fine."
Buhler has lived in Lawrence since he was 4. He graduated from Lawrence High School and Kansas University.
He has long volunteered for his church, the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, Salvation Army and Cottonwood Foundation. He is part-owner of Robert Stephens Real Estate Inc.
Buhler will join the Legislature amid a ballooning revenue shortfall that some estimate will reach $800 million out of a $4.4 billion budget.
Buhler sees one solution to solving the shortfall: He says a tax increase is necessary.
"I don't see $800 million to a billion dollars in government waste laying around there. Logic tells me that there is not $800 million in cuts to be had," he said. "I'm very anxious to hear how we can afford to fund things that are important and not raise taxes. That's just not realistic."
All the services on the chopping block are services Buhler says are critical to maintain for the future of the state.
"I came from a family that gave me everything I needed and mostly everything I wanted, so I do have strong feelings for people who are less fortunate," he said. "Education and higher education are for people who are less fortunate. I am going to take a pretty strong attitude about those things."
Buhler has been assigned to serve on the Senate's tax, banking and insurance, and local government committees.
The district Buhler will represent covers northern Douglas County, including nearly all of Lawrence and Eudora.