New lawmaker to be seated in special session

One state lawmaker will get a proverbial baptism by fire next week when that person takes office on the first day of what is expected to be a highly contentious special session.

Democrat Jim Gartner, of Topeka, is widely expected to be chosen in the coming days to replace Rep. Annie Tietze, who resigned her seat last week.

Tietze had already announced she would not seek another term, and Gartner had filed to run in that race. Gartner worked as a consultant for AT&T until his retirement two years ago. He is currently president of the Auburn-Washburn school district board of education.

But on June 6, Tietze submitted her resignation to Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach’s office then transmitted the resignation to the chief clerk of the House, but word of it didn’t circulate outside that office until over the weekend.

That means Democratic precinct committee officials from the 53rd District in central Topeka will have to meet to elect a replacement, which they are expected to do before the special session.

If Gartner is chosen, he would not only serve during the special session but would also be able to run as the “incumbent” in the general election against Republican Richard Kress.

Tietze’s resignation came two days before Gov. Sam Brownback called for a special session starting June 23 to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling on school funding equity.

On May 27, the court struck down the most recent change lawmakers made to the way state aid for local option budgets, and it has threatened to block the spending of any money for public schools if lawmakers do not fix the problem by June 30, the last day of the current fiscal year.

Republican leaders in the Legislature have harshly criticized that ruling and the threat to close schools. The House and Senate judiciary committees will meet later this week, in advance of the special session, and it is likely that they will consider additional measures aimed at limiting the court’s ability to order such remedies in school funding lawsuits.