House Rep. Marc Rhoades has eye on majority leader spot

08/14/2014 6:47 AM

08/14/2014 8:15 PM

Rep. Marc Rhoades has his sights on becoming majority leader during the next legislative session, after publicly clashing with House leaders and stepping down from a prestigious chairmanship this year.

Rhoades, R-Newton, announced his intention to run for majority leader in an e-mail to Republican colleagues, which was obtained by The Eagle.

The e-mail, which Rhoades confirmed sending, appears to target moderate Republicans.

“Some hard fought primary races pulled the mask off a challenge we face as a caucus,” Rhoades said. “How many times were we rolled last session by an alliance of Democrats and a fifth column of Republicans? We can ignore this ‘elephant’ in the room or we can acknowledge it.”

Rhoades’ e-mail warns that the Republican majority should not enable surprises on the House floor.

“Following the general election, we are likely to retain over 90 Republican members. We should expect open dialogue and respect differing opinions. But what we should not expect or passively enable, are intentional surprises,” he said.

This past session moderates and Democrats in the House aligned to defeat a repeal of the state’s renewable energy standards.

During the debate Rhoades made a claim that the state’s mandate that utility companies receive 20 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020 would lead to electric rate increases of 40 percent. He did not provide a source of this information.

Lawmakers, many of his own party, yelled out “No” in unison immediately afterward. Rhoades became flustered and shouted that he deserved respect.

Rhoades told The Eagle that the comments in the e-mail were not in reference to the debate over renewable energy.

“Not at all. Having differing opinions is fine. I respect anyone who communicates upfront where they stand, says why and then votes that way,” Rhoades said in an e-mail.

However, Rhoades accused some of his Republican colleagues of sabotaging the party.

“This is about getting real that there are members who, year after year, sit in on the Republican caucus, but work behind the scenes to sabotage it by stealth,” Rhoades said. “Open and honest discussion is healthy and I believe our caucus could benefit from more direct communication. That’s what I would hope to encourage.”

The rivalry between conservative and moderate factions of the GOP has grown increasingly intense in recent years. Primary season saw outside groups on both sides launch aggressive direct-mail campaigns.

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, R-Overland Park, one of the moderates that Rhoades’ e-mail appears to attack, responded by saying she would work with lawmakers regardless of party and ideology.

“A true Statesman takes their licks during the primary, and if victorious, puts the past behind them and moves on to conduct State business in the spirit of unity, with the understanding that our job is not about the politician, but rather, The People,” Clayton said in an e-mail.

Rhoades also clashed with House leaders over a school finance bill to comply with an order by the Supreme Court to address funding inequities between districts. Rhoades, who chaired the Appropriations Committee, added legislation to rapidly expand charter schools to an early version of the bill behind House Speaker Ray Merrick’s back.

House leaders quickly disavowed the bill and introduced their own, which omitted the charter school language, and allocated $129 million to go to schools and property tax relief.

Rhoades publicly questioned House Majority Leader Jene Vickrey, R-Louisburg, and suggested the bill cost too much money. He resigned his chairmanship at the end of March.

Rhoades gave a blistering speech on the House floor that chastised fellow Republicans for voting for the House leaders’ bill, which he said was financially irresponsible and lacked needed policy reforms.

He eventually voted for a compromise bill that spent the same dollar amount but included several policy measures passed in the Senate. He told The Eagle in his candidate questionnaire that this was the Legislature’s best decision of 2014.

In a short statement, Rep. Jene Vickrey, the man whom Rhoades seeks to unseat, said his focus is on electing Republican House candidates this fall.

“As majority leader, I have a clear focus and heartfelt dedication to see all Republican House candidates win their elections,” Vickrey said. “This will be the primary work the Majority Leader’s Office will be doing from now until November because a strong, unified Republican majority is best for the future of Kansas.”

Rep. Les Osterman, R-Wichita, a conservative who won his primary and faces no general election opponent, said it was too early to say who he would support for House leadership positions.

“I’m not going to back anybody until we find out who wins the general,” Osterman said.

Rhoades held off a primary challenge from Barbara Bunting in the 72nd District but has no general election opponent. Vickrey will face Democrat Christy Levings in the 6th District.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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