Newly elected state representatives cast their first votes as members of the Kansas House this week when lawmakers assembled in Topeka for a pre-session meeting Monday.
One of them still had homework for school he had to finish that night.
Blake Carpenter, a Republican who was elected to the seat in District 81 in southeast Sedgwick County, wouldn’t say whether he was among the 80 members who voted to retain House Speaker Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, or the 16 who supported Rep. Virgil Peck, R-Tyro.
“That’s the great thing about a secret ballot. I don’t have to tell anybody,” Carpenter said. The Derby resident will take over a seat previously held by Rep. Jim Howell, who left the Legislature to win election to the Sedgwick County Commission.
Carpenter, 23, will graduate from Wichita State University this month.
“I actually have a project that I still need to do. I’m going to be up pretty late working on it tonight,” he said.
He and the other new House members attended orientation Monday and Tuesday. They will not officially be sworn in until January.
One exception is Rep. John Whitmer, R-Wichita, who was appointed to the seat in District 93 in south Sedgwick County in late summer after Rep. Joe Edwards, R-Haysville, died in August. Whitmer had beaten Edwards in the primary and went on to win the general election.
Whitmer said he supported Merrick in the vote for speaker. He echoed Merrick in saying that the state has a spending problem rather than a revenue problem. Whitmer said he would not support any solution to the state’s budget hole that involves raising taxes.
The state is projected to face a shortfall of $279 million by the end of this fiscal year in June and another shortfall of $436 million for the following year. Whitmer said that he believes the state will outperform expectations and the shortfalls will be smaller than predicted.
“I’m an optimist. I don’t think it’s going to be as bad. That’s just me,” he said.
Whitmer said he was hoping to work with colleagues from both sides of the aisle this session.
“I like the bipartisanship so far,” Whitmer said. “Even (Democrat) Jim Ward said hello. We’re friendly. … I like that.”
Kristey Williams, who was elected to replace retiring Rep. Dave Crum, R-Augusta, in District 77, said she thinks her previous experience as mayor of Augusta will serve her well as the Legislature weighs the budget this session.
“Certainly our city has dealt with less revenue (rather) than more in the past few years, just as many have with the recession,” Williams said. “So I’m glad I have that experience. I do think it’s going to be challenging.”
Williams, a Republican, said Crum has served as a mentor for her in the lead-up to the session. She called herself “a political creature” and said that she loved the experience of her first day at the Legislature.
“When I was sitting in my seat, I was thinking about the history that was created here,” Williams said. “But I was also thinking of the 77th District and that they’re trusting me to represent them, and that’s just exciting for me to not only be part of the history that has gone through here but also be there for them.”