Politics & Government

Virgil Peck will challenge Ray Merrick for speaker of Kansas House

Virgil Peck has served in the Legislature since 2005 and currently serves as chair of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee.
Virgil Peck has served in the Legislature since 2005 and currently serves as chair of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee.

A southeast Kansas lawmaker has his eyes on knocking off Ray Merrick as speaker of the Kansas House.

Following the general election, Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro, sent letters to victorious Republican House candidates, informing them of his intention to stand for speaker when lawmakers come to Topeka on Dec. 1 to hold leadership elections.

Peck’s letter does not specifically say why he would like to replace Merrick, R-Stilwell, as speaker, but says lawmakers have a responsibility to choose leaders “whom we feel are best equipped to represent the core beliefs of Kansas citizens and our party’s philosophy of limited government.”

"During the 2015 and 2016 Legislative Sessions, Kansas legislators will face a variety of challenging issues; including crafting a priority based, balanced budget with a positive ending balance. The November 10th consensus revenue projections amplify the need for open and honest discussion among legislators from both chambers. Understanding that no one person has all the answers to the challenges ahead of us, as Speaker of the House I will be positioned to help make certain that the House Republicans work with our Senate colleagues and the Governor to reach the best possible solutions for Kansas citizens and businesses,” Peck wrote in an e-mail.

Peck, who lives in Montgomery County near the Oklahoma border, has served in the Legislature since 2005 and currently serves as chair of the Transportation and Public Safety Budget Committee.

Peck’s tenure has seen several controversies.

In 2011, Peck joked at a committee hearing that if a plan to shoot feral hogs from helicopters worked, then the state would have also found its solution to illegal immigration. He later apologized for the remark.

This past year Peck introduced a bill to give lawmakers a $10,000 a year raise that gained little traction and caused some backlash. He also faced scrutiny during this past election when he used campaign funds to purchase a pair of cowboy boots, which his campaign finance forms said were for parades.

Peck is known at the Legislature for his penchant for wearing flamboyantly colored suit jackets – bright red, lavender, orange, gold and lime green – and some GOP lawmakers even participated in a “Virgil Peck Day” last year when they wore brightly colored suit jackets in imitation of him.

Merrick and Peck are both members of the conservative faction of the Republican Party, which dominates the House. Peck would probably challenge Merrick from the right, appealing to members who feel House leadership has not been conservative enough.

In response to Peck’s challenge, Merrick’s spokeswoman, Rachel Whitten, said, "Any legislator is welcome to run for whatever leadership office they choose."

So far no moderate Republican has indicated an interest in standing for the job. Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton, a self-described moderate, said moderates did not gain enough seats in the last election to have a legitimate shot at taking over the speakership. However, he said he did expect the moderate voting bloc to decide several key votes this session.

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

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