GOP asking for parties to fill statewide office vacancies

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Kansas Republican Party Chairman Mike Kuckelman on Thursday urged lawmakers to pass a bill that would remove the governor’s power to fill vacancies for two statewide offices.

Kuckelman asked the House Elections Committee to advance legislation that would turn the appointment authority for treasurer and insurance commissioner over to the state’s political parties.

Mike Kuckelman

The legislation, which was introduced two years ago but died, comes shortly after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly appointed Lt. Gov. Lynn Rogers as treasurer when Republican Jake LaTurner was elected to Congress.

Kuckelman said the legislation would bring consistency to the process by letting the political party of the person who vacated the office choose the successor.

The replacements would be picked at a state party delegate convention, similar to how local conventions of precinct committee members fill vacancies in the Legislature.

“The voters voted for a person to occupy the office, but many of those voters do that because of the political party, because of what the person stands for, because of the agenda for which that person stands for,” Kuckelman said.

“Voter intent would be better represented by allowing the successful party — the party that the person belonged to that was initially elected — to allow that party to pick the successor. That makes more sense,” he said.

The Legislature has the power to change the appointment authority for treasurer and insurance commissioner by passing a bill.

Abolishing the governor’s ability to fill vacancies for attorney general and secretary of state, however, would require a separate constitutional amendment that would need support from two-thirds of the Legislature and a public vote.

A separate piece of legislation addressing the attorney general and the secretary of state has been filed in the House.

Trading out Republicans holding statewide office for Democats is not unusual in Kansas.

Former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius appointed Democrat Dennis McKinney as treasurer to replace Republican Lynn Jenkins after Jenkins was elected to Congress.

And former Gov. Mark Parkinson named Democrat Chris Biggs as secretary of state after Republican Ron Thornburgh stepped down.

Sebelius also got to name Democrat Steve Six as attorney general after Democrat Paul Morrison resigned awash in scandal.

There was no opposition to the bill heard on Thursday, but Democratic state Rep. Brett Parker pushed back against Kuckelman’s argument that it would make the process more representative because there would be more people involved in choosing the replacement.

“You are limiting democracy by limiting it to a single party rather than a statewide elected official who was elected by the entirety of the state of Kansas,” Parker said.

Brett Parker

The Overland Park lawmaker also questioned whether all voters are casting ballots for candidates based on party.

“I think it is true that some voters vote based on party, I just don’t think we should set policy specifically to accommodate one set of voters and not the other,” he said.

Parker said there are Republicans in his district who support him, while there are Democratic voters who have supported Republican candidates for either local or statewide offices.

“We are, in fact, disenfranchising those voters when we leave it up to a party to appoint.”

Kuckelman disagreed, saying that the state should honor voters’ decision to elect someone from one party to the executive branch and another party to statewide office.

“If enough voters are electing people of different parties for different seats, we should respect that,” he said.

Parker asked whether Kuckelman would agree to let the bill start after the next gubernatorial election, honoring voters’ intent to elect someone as governor with the powers that were assumed at the time of the election.

“We are fixing what I perceive to be a mismatch here,” Kuckelman said.

“In my view, the current system doesn’t reflect what voters would want us to do. It needs to be fixed sooner rather than later. There’s no real reason to hold back on that.”