Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle is taking away the chairmanship of a top Republican senator after he said he refused to go along with her plans to reshuffle the Senate’s committee leaders.
Senate Vice President Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia, has split with Wagle on multiple key issues in recent years, including Medicaid expansion and school funding.
The reshuffle comes as Democratic Gov-elect Laura Kelly prepares to take office and push an agenda that calls for increased spending that Wagle, R- Wichita, and other conservative Republicans are deeply skeptical about. It also represents a remarkable public split between top Republican lawmakers.
“I think the easiest way to describe it is she felt like realignment needed to be in place to complete her political agenda, but I don’t know what that political agenda entails,” Longbine said.
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Longbine will no longer chair the Senate’s Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee, according to a list of committee chairs Wagle released Wednesday. The decision leaves one of the highest-ranking Republicans without a leadership role on any Senate committee.
Longbine said he refused to go along with a proposal from Wagle to change the senators chairing several committees, and also refused a proposal for him to take a chairmanship for himself by stripping another senator of it.
Senate rules say that Wagle must consult Longbine and Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, but that she has the power to make changes.
Longbine said he had a real problem as a member of Senate leadership taking a chairmanship away from another senator for himself. He would not name the committee he had been asked to lead.
“I felt like the entire upheaval was also unwarranted, unnecessary and would be disruptive,” Longbine said.
Harrison Hems, Wagle’s chief of staff, would not respond to Longbine’s statements. But he said the Republican caucus is unified and understands that Kelly’s proposals could “break the bank” and be unaffordable.
“I think those changes were necessary to unify the caucus,” Hems said of the committee leadership changes.
While Wagle did make some changes to committee leadership, chairs of several key committees were left untouched, including the Senate’s tax and budget committees.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, is replacing Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, on the utilities committee. Olson is replacing Longbine on financial institutions and insurance.
The committee chairs were announced hours after Sen. Barbara Bollier, of Mission Hills, said she was switching parties from Republican to Democrat.