TOPEKA – Republican leaders in the Senate unveiled a new roster of committee leaders Tuesday that reflects the chamber’s more conservative leanings.
Among the appointments is Sen. Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, who is the new chair of the powerful Ways and Means Committee that handles the state budget. Masterson has worked on budget committees for several years.
He filed for Chapter 7 personal bankruptcy in 2010, following the failure of his business, Masterbuilt Homes, in 2006. The senator has said his financial troubles started with an employee who mismanaged projects and made unauthorized charges. His bankruptcy filing showed he owed Corner Bank $209,000 and Emprise Bank $53,890 in commercial loans. He also listed more than $160,000 in revolving credit card debt.
State records show MasterBuilt Homes has closed and Masterson now heads Advanced Technology Development Group, LLC; Springboard, LLC; and LED Solutions, LLC.
Masterson said the bankruptcy case has been fully discharged from the courts, but he is still working with two banks and two vendors to repay debts even though the payments weren't required by the court.
"It's just what I believe is the right thing to do in the end," he said.
Masterson said that he understands why someone might question his role as chair of a budget committee with the bankruptcy in his background. But he said it provides him some personal perspective on the tough times many people are facing with state and national economic problems.
"Who better to lead out of the forest than somebody who has seen a lot of the pitfalls," he said.
Masterson said he plans to focus on "holding the line" on funding for core government operations, including schools, public safety and transportation, while looking for ways to save money.
Masterson, who represents District 16 in eastern Sedgwick County and western Butler County, was unopposed in this year’s primary and general elections. He served in the House from 2005 to 2008 before being elected to the Senate.
Senate President-elect Susan Wagle of Wichita said Masterson has “tremendous credibility with his peers.”
Senate Majority Leader-elect Terry Bruce, of Hutchinson, said no one on the nine-member Committee on Organization, Calendar and Rules that makes committee appointments took issue with the bankruptcy.
“Everybody has faith in his ability to bring forward a good product to the Senate floor,” he said.
Bruce and Wagle said Masterson is among many in the construction business who had troubles in recent years.
“The recession hurt a lot of people, and legislators aren’t immune from that,” he said.
Masterson replaces Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick as head of Ways and Means.
McGinn, who was targeted by Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative allies because they felt she was too moderate, won re-election to the Senate. It’s unclear if she will remain on Ways and Means. Wagle and other newly elected Senate leaders chose Overland Park Republican Jim Denning to be the vice chair. Other appointments will be announced next week.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he wasn't surprised by the selection of conservative committee leaders, and he predicted it will lead to more conservative legislation moving through the Statehouse.
“A lot of issues that previously would have been blocked by the Senate now will be passed onto the governor,” he said.
He said he could foresee someone making an issue of Masterson's bankruptcy, but he said Masterson is a logical choice and a “quick study” on budget issues.
Hensley said he's curious to see how Masterson handles education and social service funding.
"He'll bring a different political philosophy than Carolyn McGinn," he said.
Masterson is among several Wichita-area senators in key committee positions.
Wagle, who represents east Wichita, was easily elected Senate president earlier this month.
Arkansas City Republican Sen. Steve Abrams, who came in second in the race for Senate president, will chair the Education Committee, replacing Wichita Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf, who was defeated by Michael O’Donnell in this year’s primary.
Abrams is a former state school board member who became known for attempts by him and other conservatives on the board to challenge Darwin's theory of evolution in the classroom. He said when he was running for the Senate in 2008 that the evolution issue was divisive and that he hoped it did not come up in the Legislature.
West Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan retained his position as chairman of the Senate Tax Committee, which will again this year face controversial income tax changes.
Wichita Republican Sen. Mike Petersen will be chairman of the Transportation Committee, replacing Republican Sen. Dwayne Umbarger, who was defeated by Sen. Jeff King, R-Independence.
“I’d say south-central Kansas is well-represented,” Wagle said.
Sen. Julia Lynn, R-Olathe, will head the Commerce Committee formally chaired by Wagle. That committee is likely to deal with controversial labor bills that failed to gain traction in prior sessions.
Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, will take over the Federal and State Affairs Committee, which usually handles immigration- and alcohol-related legislation. He replaces Salina Republican Sen. Pete Brungardt, who was defeated by Tom Arpke in the primary.
Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, will lead the Agriculture Committee formerly headed up by Sen. Mark Taddiken, R-Clifton, who did not seek re-election.
King, R-Independence, who was elected Senate vice president earlier this month, will be the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee. King, who was vice-chair of the committee during the 2012 legislative session, replaces Overland Park Republican Sen. Tim Owens, who was defeated by Jim Denning in the primary.
Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, will lead the Public Health and Welfare Committee, replacing Topeka Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a moderate who won re-election despite being targeted by conservative Republicans in the primary.
Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, will chair the Financial Institution and Insurance Committee, replacing Sen. Ruth Teichman, who was defeated by Mitch Holmes.
The House plans to announce leadership positions in coming days.