It wasn’t the way he wanted to go out. But Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, is ready to move forward.
As the Kansas Legislature wrapped up a two-day special session Friday to revamp its school funding bill, the 15-year Statehouse veteran expressed relief and frustration at the end of his public service career.
In May, Ostmeyer, 73, announced he was withdrawing from re-election, saying he was looking forward to spending more time with his family.
He likens leaving the Legislature to graduating high school.
“I put my heart and soul into everything I did as an athlete; I worked hard at it,” he said Friday. “I walked out of there, I forgot about it — I’m no longer an athlete, I graduated. It’s the same way here.
“I had my chance. I look at some of the decisions I’ve made, I regret some of that, but I’m not going to go back. I’m going to move forward. I tried really hard to get us going in the right direction,” he said.
Ostmeyer, a Republican, was elected to the 40th District Senate seat in 2005 after representing the 118th House District for two terms starting in 2001. He has had leadership positions on the Committee for Federal and State Affairs and the Joint Committee on State-Tribal Relations, and served on committees for natural resources, education, agriculture, and corrections and juvenile justice.
Perhaps his greatest frustration through the years is the topic of the special session — school funding. He has been critical of the school funding formula since it was revamped in 2005 and 2006 in response to the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that the state’s educational funding system violated the state Constitution.
“I wanted to come back and be part of that school formula,” he said. “We’ve let that thing get out of hand by throwing more money at it.”
He also expressed frustration at the Legislature’s failure to address what some consider to be too much power in the Supreme Court.
In February, the court ruled in Gannon v. the State of Kansas that the state’s school funding formula was unconstitutional and gave the Legislature a June 30 deadline to create an equitable funding level or else the entire public education system could be shut down. It then ruled in May the school funding bill did not completely meet the constitutional requirements, prompting last week’s special session.
During the special session, the Senate considered a constitutional amendment that would have prevented the courts from closing the schools, coming up just one vote shy of the two-thirds majority needed to pass it. Had it passed both chambers by that margin, the question would have been placed on the November general election ballot.
“We need to get our judges lined up with what the people in Kansas stand for,” he said. “We’re a very conservative state.”
“I just can’t imagine that anyone would vote against an amendment that would give the public the power to make the decision,” he said.
He also did not hold back on criticizing his own party.
“I just think the Republicans have done a poor job of governing the past eight years, and we’ve missed some of these opportunities to fix things in the state of Kansas,” he said.
Sometimes that view had him in trouble with his own party, but Ostmeyer said he always worked for the people who elected him.
“When I went out and listened in my district, I did what my district asked. Matter of fact, the conservatives kicked me out of their club for awhile. I wasn’t invited to their meetings,” he said.