TOPEKA – Now that the balance of power in the state Senate is poised to shift farther to the political right, some senators will begin quiet campaigns to see who will lead this new version of the majority party.
The Senate’s current president, Sen. Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, was defeated by Republican Rep. Larry Powell in Tuesday’s election (unofficial results), and its vice president, Sen. John Vratil, R-Leawood, announced his retirement from the Senate a few weeks ago.
With more conservative candidates poised to form a strong majority, the body seems poised to select a conservative stalwart to lead.
Wichita Republican Sen. Les Donovan, elected in 1996, is the longest serving conservative in the Senate, and he has said he will run for president – or some other leadership position.
But he said whether that happens depends on the general election in November and who else steps up to be president, vice president and majority leader in the Senate. Donovan will face Democrat Diana Cubbage, a former teacher, in the November general election.
Meanwhile, Sen. Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican elected in 2004, plans to run for majority leader. He said he hasn’t heard of anyone else seeking that spot yet. “I’m hopefully optimistic I’d be unopposed,” he said.
Bruce faces Democrat Mark Treaster, a former House Representative, in the general election.
Bruce said Republicans have no written rule about seniority determinning leadership, but he said Republicans will likely seek a “stabilizing force” who is diplomatic and has some experience in the Senate. Bruce said the overwhelming conservative victories in the primary put the pressure on conservatives to deliver.
“We’re in the spotlight now,” he said. “And we just have to prove to the state that they didn’t make a mistake and that we can head the state in the right direction.”
Senate president, vice president and majority leader play an important role in referring bills to committees that put proposed laws on track for a vote by the Senate. The senate president chairs the committee on organization, calendar and rules that appoints members of committees and the chairs of those committees. The committees are typically the first stop for newly proposed laws, and the chair can decide which of those new proposals will get a hearing and vote of the committee that sends the proposal on for a vote in the Senate, if the Senate’s leaders allow it.
The president is usually elected on the first day of the session, but the dirty work occurs in weeks leading up to that where members try to convince fellow senators to support them during a nomination vote at a caucus meeting in early December.
Sen. Susan Wagle ran for Senate President four years ago and lost to Morris, who was the incumbent president. She said she is looking into what role in leadership might be best for her.
“I think it will be quiet until November,” she said of the leadership races. “The majority isn’t secured until November.”
Wagle faces Patrick Cantwell in the November general election.
The president gets an extra $14,039 in salary, the vice president gets $7,165 more and the Majority leader, who ranks just behind president, get an additional $12,666.
The Senate’s current majority leader, Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, won his primary contest Tuesday. He wasn’t available to comment Wednesday. But he has been viewed as a moderate Republican, and it’s unclear if he could convince enough conservatives to keep him in a leadership role.
Donovan said he has heard Emler plans to run for president. “I think those odds have gotten a little smaller now,” Donovan said.