TOPEKA — Republicans fell short of their ambitious goal of making the Statehouse even more Republican, but they retained historically strong majorities in the House and Senate and perhaps tilted the party’s philosophy farther right.
Republicans’ 32-8 dominance in the Senate and 92-33 strength in the House can be deceiving because the party’s unity can break apart on nuanced issues, such as school finance, immigration reform and how to limit or reduce taxes.
The battle within the Republican Party was largely settled during the primary when the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and other groups aligned with conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback worked to oust eight incumbent Republican senators they viewed as too moderate.
“It looks like the governor’s purge of moderates this summer was reasonably successful,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. “I think Democrats are going to be kind of hard-pressed to find three Republicans among this group that they can consistently have any type of challenge to the 75 percent veto threshold.”
Republican Party Executive Director Clay Barker said that he foresees divisions between moderate and conservative Republicans eroding as moderates decide to become Democrats or pair with the conservative majority.
With the strong majorities, Brownback should have all the help he needs to advance his limited government vision for the state and manage the outcome of the massive income tax cuts he signed into law earlier this year by cutting spending or tweaking the tax code.
The new conservatives favor many tea party ideals of smaller government, while moderates have sought to maintain more of what they feel are core services while remaining staunchly Republican on most basic moral issues.
Through the years, both factions have partnered with Democrats — sometimes involuntarily and other times teaming up when their motives are different but their goals are the same.
The age of moderate Republicans pairing with Democrats to form a majority in the Senate may be over for the next two years, at least. And Republicans viewed as moderate will almost certainly face peer pressure to pick a side.
But there are many unknowns with so many new faces.
Though some races are very close, it appears the 125-member House will have 55 new members, including some who have previously been House representatives. Meanwhile, the 40-member Senate will likely have 16 new members.
Democrats are celebrating because the party had relatively few casualties. It maintained its numbers and took out a few key victories, including retention of Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat who has set the state record with his 36 years serving in the House and Senate.
One of the party’s biggest victories came in Wichita, where Democratic Rep. Nile Dillmore beat longtime Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr. Also in Wichita, former Democratic Rep. Tom Sawyer ousted Republican Rep. Benny Boman and newcomer Patricia Sloop beat Republican Rep. Joseph Scapa.
Republican Rep. Phil Hermanson, meanwhile, knocked off Democratic Rep. Geraldine Flaharty who has served in the House since 1996 in a south Wichita district. Republican candidates also beat Hays Democratic Rep. Eber Phelps, who has served in the House since 1996, Topeka Democratic Rep. Sean Gatewood and perhaps Topeka Democratic Rep. Ann Mah, who was trailing by 27 votes.
Republicans are still the Sedgwick County majority by solid margins. Of the Senate districts with contested turf in Sedgwick County on Tuesday, the unofficial tally shows four won by Republicans and one by Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau. Of the smaller contested House districts with territory in Sedgwick County, 10 were won by Republicans and eight by Democrats. Another nine local Republican incumbents — four senators and five representatives — faced no Democratic opposition. One Democratic incumbent faced no opposition.