Topeka The House will review a Democratic member's two-vote victory in the November election, and Democrats worry Republicans will use their majority to remove him from office.
Rep. Gene Rardin, D-Overland Park, has represented the 16th District since Jan. 8, when the 2007 Legislature convened. However, his GOP opponent, John Dennis Kriegshauser, also from Overland Park, hasn't conceded.
It's only the third time in the past 20 years that the House has been asked to review a close election. And there's no record in modern times of the House settling a race with a vote of its members.
County and state officials certified Rardin as the winner after a re-count, and a Johnson County district judge confirmed that result. However, Kriegshauser's attorney, former Rep. Eric Carter, also R-Overland Park, contends at least three votes cast for Rardin shouldn't have been counted - meaning Kriegshauser should have won by a single vote out of more than 8,200 cast.
The Kansas Constitution makes each chamber the ultimate judge of elections involving its members, and so an appeal of the judge's order went directly to the House. On Tuesday, Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, appointed a committee of three Republicans and three Democrats to review the evidence.
The committee has until Feb. 9 to make a recommendation to the House. Unless Kriegshauser gives up his challenge, the chamber will vote, and Republicans hold a 78-47 majority.
In the 16th House District in Overland Park, Republican John Kriegshauser is challenging his loss to Democrat Gene Rardin.House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, on Tuesday appointed three Republicans and three Democrats to a committee to review the judge's decision and make recommendations to the House.The chairman is Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson. Other members are Gary Hayzlett, R-Lakin; Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg; Mike Peterson, D-Kansas City; Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, and Jim Ward, D-Wichita.The committee has until Feb. 9 to make a recommendation, then the House will vote on who should be seated, unless Kriegshauser withdraws his challenge.
"There have been at least four reviews of this, and they've all been certified," said House Minority Leader Dennis McKinney, D-Greensburg. "So why maintain this contest of this race, when Gene Rardin has won, if it's not for a purely partisan political power strategy?"
But Neufeld said the law required him to appoint the committee and have the election reviewed because Kriegshauser isn't conceding.
"It's automatic. I don't have any choice," Neufeld said. "The Legislature's the court of last resort."
In 1990, in the 59th District, Republican Elaine Wells, of Carbondale, won her seat by two votes, but her Democratic opponent withdrew her challenge just before the House was to vote. In 1994, the 79th District race between Democrat Joe Shriver and Republican Danny Jones, both from Arkansas City, ended in a tie; the two candidates drew backgammon chips, and Jones prevailed.
Rep. Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita, a member of the committee reviewing the Rardin-Kriegshauser race, said overturning Rardin's victory would be "an abuse of power" by the Republicans.
"It would strain relations a lot. The voters, I think, want us to work together to solve issues up here, and it'd be very hard to do that," he said. "I don't see how any good can come by overturning an election."
Neufeld said he's also concerned because settling a contested election will prove difficult.
"But, at the end of the day, I'm confident the Legislature will do what's right, and we'll respect the vote of the people," he said.