Saying his party is locked in a “death struggle” with conservative Republicans, Wichita Democrat Rep. Jim Ward said he will be seeking the position of House minority leader when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
The position will be open because current Democratic leader Paul Davis decided to run – unsuccessfully – for governor.
Ward, who is not now in a House leadership position, has been one of his caucus’ most vocal members in floor debate. His aggressive and assertive style marks a sharp contrast to Davis’ quieter and more deliberative presence as minority leader.
In the past two election cycles, Democrats have seen their numbers in the House shrink from 49 of the 125 seats to 32 this year. When the final ballots from Tuesday’s election are counted in a couple of too-close-to-call races, they’ll have between 27 and 29.
To recover, Ward said, the Democrats need to speak up and define their own positions and values, “or the Republicans will spend the next two years defining us, and we’ll lose another five seats in the next election.”
Ward said he sees the mission of the next minority leader as two-fold: helping his own caucus to be more effective and working with moderate Republicans in areas where they have common interests.
He said the conservative faction of the Republican Party has spent as much effort targeting and marginalizing its own moderate members as it has fighting Democrats. And the conservatives have made it clear they want to be rid of all the Democrats and moderates, he said.
“We are in a death struggle with the conservatives in Kansas,” Ward said.
He said Democrats and moderate Republicans can coalesce around three major issues: the funding and running of public schools, transportation and health and home care services for the poor, seniors and people with disabilities.
Also expected to compete for the job of minority leader is the current deputy minority leader, Rep. Tom Burroughs of Kansas City. Burroughs did not return a phone message seeking comment.
Rep. Julie Menghini of Pittsburg, the current minority whip, was also seen as a potential competitor for minority leader, but she was voted out of office in Tuesday’s election.
Reach Dion Lefler at 316-268-6527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.