Topeka State Sen. Chris Steineger of Kansas City, Kan., on Friday left the Democratic Party to join Republicans, saying his fiscal beliefs were more in line with the GOP and that he could better serve his district by teaming up with the majority party.
“Most people tell me they want me to do what is best for the community, not a political party. By joining the Republican majority in the State Capitol, I am better able to deliver value and service to the people of Wyandotte County. Our voice in Topeka is stronger by being in the majority,” Steineger said.
The decision gives Republicans a 32-8 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.
Democrats said they were glad to see Steineger leave but disagreed with his logic.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said Steineger had turned his back on voters in his district, which is one of the highest voting Democratic districts in the state, giving President Barack Obama 64 percent of the vote in 2008 and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius 75 percent support in 2006.
And Hensley said Steineger’s father — Jack Steineger, who was Senate Democratic leader for 12 years — was an example of a legislator from the minority party who could get things done.
“Jack Steineger’s legacy proves that you don’t have to be a member of the majority party to effectively serve the people of Kansas,” Hensley said.
But Chris Steineger said his political philosophy moved him closer to Republicans.
“I am a fiscal hawk who believes Americans have been borrowing, spending and living beyond their means for too long,” Steineger said.
“My views on taxing, borrowing and spending, and on the size and role of government in our society, have changed over the years and today more closely align with the Republican Party,” he said.
Kansas Democratic Party Chairman Larry Gates said Steineger’s values and those of the Democrats were no longer the same
“In recent years, it has become abundantly clear that his views, and his votes in the Legislature, do not represent those values associated with Kansas Democrats — values such as supporting a strong public education, ensuring an adequate safety net for those in need and working toward a brighter economic future for our state,” Gates said.
During the last legislative session, Steineger was the only Democrat in the Senate to vote against the 1-cent increase in the state sales tax rate. Supporters of the increase said it was needed to avoid damaging cuts to education, social services and public safety.
In 2007, Steineger introduced a bill to sell Kansas University Hospital and use the proceeds to pay for repairs at regents universities and help the state pension system. The measure didn’t gain much support.
He has also introduced legislation in the past to reduce the number of counties in Kansas from 105 to 13, and has been a frequent critic of the escalating costs of the Capitol renovation project.
Steineger was an unsuccessful candidate in the Democratic Party primary in August for secretary of state. The primary was won by Secretary of State Chris Biggs, who was then defeated in the general election by Republican Kris Kobach.
Steineger was first elected to the state Senate in 1996.
With the change, Steineger will be able to participate in the Senate Republican caucus meeting on Monday, in which the caucus will elect a majority leader to replace Attorney Gen.-elect Derek Schmidt. Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, appears to be the only candidate for majority leader.
Steineger said he intends to run for re-election in 2012 as a Republican.