Democrat Sawyer steps away from leadership post; Hawkins seeks job of Kansas House speaker
photo by: Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector
TOPEKA — Kansas House Democratic leader Tom Sawyer, first elected to the Legislature in 1986, said Tuesday he didn’t intend to seek the leadership job entering the 2023 session.
The announcement that Sawyer would step aside but remain in the House followed decisions by House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr. and House Speaker Pro Tem Blaine Finch, both Republicans, not to seek reelection in 2022. House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, who was reelected, is expected to be chosen by peers to serve as House speaker for the two-year legislative cycle.
Sawyer, of Wichita, was House majority leader from 1991 to 1992, and he served as House minority leader for two stretches, one from 1993 to 1998 and another beginning in 2018. His last day in that role will be Jan. 9.
“Upon deep reflection, I believe it is time for me to step back and allow the caucus to have a new leader who will lead us and Kansans towards achieving these important goals,” Sawyer said. “It has been an honor of a lifetime to be entrusted with the responsibility to lead our caucus over the many years.”
The August primary and November general election left House Republicans with a two-thirds majority, which is important when considering veto override attempts. Democrats gained one seat in the 125-member House to bring their caucus to 40 members, but that was two seats short of breaking the GOP supermajority and offering more assistance to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly during her second term.
Sawyer, who ran for governor in 1998 and served four years as chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party, said he expected Democrats to expand their numbers in the House.
“This growth, which I hope to see continue in the coming years, will strengthen our position to advocate strongly for the issues that matter most to Kansans, such as tax relief, expanding Medicaid, fully funding public education including special education and legalizing medicinal marijuana,” he said.
Hawkins, who has served in the House since 2013, blasted Kelly in a letter to House Republicans, criticizing her handling of the COVID pandemic and her stance on abortion issues and claiming that she allowed crime and inflation to rise.
Individuals elected in November to serve in the 2023 Legislature will vote on nominees for House speaker, House majority leader and House speaker pro tem, as well as the top Democratic posts in the chamber, on Dec. 5.
— Tim Carpenter reports for Kansas Reflector.