Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback's appointments to the Kansas Board of Regents were approved today, but not before a Democratic leader accused the governor of improperly packing the board with too many Republicans.
"I don't understand what it is, that this governor doesn't think he has to play by the rules," said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, of Topeka.
But Republicans on the Senate Confirmation Oversight Committee accused Hensley of taking a partisan shot.
"Seems we are entering election season a little early," said state Sen. Pat Apple, R-Louisburg.
The dispute was over Brownback's selection of Shane Bangerter, a Dodge City workers' compensation attorney, to the regents.
Under state law, the nine-member board can have no more than five members of one party. Hensley said there already are five Republicans on the board.
Bangerter, a longtime Republican Party activist, changed his party affiliation from the GOP to unaffiliated.
"We have had an intentional circumvention of the law," Hensley said.
When Hensley asked Bangerter when he changed to unaffiliated, Bangerter said he thought it was nine or 10 months ago, but according to the Ford County clerk, it was in February.
Bangerter said he was active in the Republican Party up until five years ago, but Hensley produced documents that showed Bangerter served in various GOP positions as late as 2010.
Hensley said Bangerter "has an adult lifetime of service and leadership in the Republican Party." He called Bangerter's nomination a "sham process," adding that "someone in the governor's office should be held responsible."
But Bangerter said he no longer considers himself a Republican. "Maybe being a plaintiff's lawyer tends to make you a little more moderate," he said.
He said no one from the governor's office asked him to change his party affiliation. "Independent more accurately describes where I am right now," he said.
State Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence, said he was embarrassed by Hensley's criticisms. King read aloud a portion of a newspaper article from 2006 when Mark Parkinson, the former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, changed his party affiliation to Democrat to run for lieutenant governor with then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.
The committee approved Bangerter to serve on the regents, with Hensley voting against him.
The committee also approved to the regents Helen Van Etten, a Republican national committeewoman and audiologist with the Topeka school district, and Ann Murguia, who is a commissioner for the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan.
Murguia recently ran an unsuccessful bid for mayor. In the race, Murguia was assisted by allies of Brownback's.
The three come onto the board after the Legislature cut $44 million in higher education over two years. Brownback publicly criticized the cuts, but he signed them into law.
During the committee meeting today, Van Etten said higher education funding must be balanced with other state needs and that economic growth will happen "when Kansans are allowed to keep more of their own money."
She also said that higher education must adapt to the marketplace and produce more graduates with technical skills and expertise.
Bangerter, Van Etten and Murguia are replacing Christine Downey-Schmidt, a former state senator from Inman, Janie Perkins, a school district administrator and former mayor of Garden City, and Dan Lykins, a Topeka attorney.
The board oversees the six state universities, 19 community colleges and six technical colleges.