House freshmen toe hard line
Topeka ? They’re called the “Hard 20.”
The group of approximately 20 freshmen conservative Republicans in the House has by some accounts driven the agenda of the special legislative session and is at the center of an impasse over school finance.
“They have added a new dynamic to the House,” Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said.
The Legislature returns to work today after taking a break from a special session on school finance that has so far gone 11 days without a solution.
The Kansas Supreme Court has ordered lawmakers to increase school funding by $143 million, and has scheduled a hearing Friday to determine whether to cut off funding to schools should the Legislature fail to comply with its order.
‘Separation of Powers’
The “Hard 20” have pushed for a constitutional amendment that would prevent the state Supreme Court from ordering the Legislature to make appropriations as part of a legal remedy.
And they want additional funding for schools contingent on the House and Senate advancing such an amendment to the ballot for voters to consider.
“The amendment is crucial,” Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, one of the leaders of the “Hard 20,” said.
The court, Kinzer said, has violated the “separation of powers” doctrine by telling the Legislature it must appropriate funds.
Joined by other veteran conservatives, the “Hard 20” have succeeded in helping prevent the House from voting on a bipartisan school funding plan, but failed to get the two-thirds’ majority necessary in the House for the constitutional amendment.
These are freshmen House Republicans who have generally voted the same on major issues:
Virginia Beamer, Oakley; Anthony Brown, Eudora; Richard Carlson, St. Marys; Pat George, Dodge City; John Grange, El Dorado; Mitch Holmes, St. John; Kasha Kelley, Arkansas City; Dick Kelsey, Goddard; Mike Kiegerl, Olathe; Patricia Kilpatrick, Overland Park; Lance Kinzer, Olathe; Forrest Knox, Fredonia; Lynne Oharah, Uniontown; Robert Olson, Olathe; Bill Otto, LeRoy; Virgil Peck, Tyro; and Jason Watkins, Wichita.
Joann Flower, Oskaloosa; Mary Pilcher-Cook, Shawnee; and Shari Weber, Herington, have served in the Legislature before and either left or were voted out, and have now returned to be freshmen again.
There’s the standoff.
“We are a group of freshmen generally in favor of the House leadership position,” said Kinzer, referring to House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka.
The group of conservative freshmen believe in limited government, and they are pro-business and anti-abortion, Kinzer said.
Some of them defeated moderate Republican incumbents in the GOP primary on a platform that they would vote to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would prohibit same-sex marriage. The amendment was approved early in the regular session and passed by voters in April.
But some Democrats and moderate Republicans find the conservatives’ behavior difficult to take. Holding school funding for a constitutional amendment that is short of the necessary votes is blackmail, they say.
“We are dealing with a group of people who don’t understand they might be wrong,” Rep. Nancy Kirk, D-Topeka, said recently.
These freshmen are anything but seen and not heard.
During the regular session, after the House failed to override Gov. Kathleen Sebelius’ veto of a bill that would have increased regulation of abortion clinics, members of the “Hard 20” group marched into Mays’ office.
Some Republicans said the group wanted Mays to discipline Republican committee chairs who voted to sustain the Democratic governor’s veto.
But Kinzer said the meeting was to get advice from Mays on how the group could be more persuasive with its arguments in the future.
Davis said the “Hard 20” goes further than favoring limited government.
“They are anti-government,” Davis said, noting that many of them returned to the special session saying the Legislature should defy the court order and not appropriate any more money to schools.
“That’s pretty irresponsible,” Davis said.
Lock on Mays
Some Democrats have said the conservative group has a philosophical bent against public schools. But Kinzer said that was not the case. He said that conservatives simply wanted to keep the judiciary out of the legislative arena.
Davis and other Democrats have said that one of the major holdups of the session is that Mays is beholden to the conservative freshmen because they have been so supportive of him.
“I think the speaker is pragmatic enough to want to negotiate a way to end the special session, but the “Hard 20″ has prevented him from that,” Davis said.
Mays has faced a divided House Republican caucus.
There are those who want to comply with the court order, those who don’t and several groups in between.
After hearing House Republicans debate various options during a late night, two-hour caucus meeting last week, Mays said, “Seems like we are in a standoff. I don’t know where we go from here.”