Nope, she doesn’t get the big secon nd floor office, but there is a decent chance that after the election is over and a new person has been elected to take that governor’s ceremonial office, that Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, might just become the most powerful figure in the Kansas Statehouse next year.
And maybe two, maybe four years after that…
What? How does the Senate President run state government? By veto, or veto override. Why would this be different for Wagle after this gubernatorial election that follows nearly two terms of Sam Brownback, who became governor two years before Wagle became Senate president? Part is experience for Democrat Laura Kelly (Wagle can negotiate with fellow Senate veteran Kelly) and part is inexperience for Republican Kris Kobach (Wagle can tell Legislature newbie Kobach what will and won’t work).
The Senate has enough Republicans to veto a bill or to override a veto of a bill, with 30 Republicans — though the number might drop to 29 depending on who wins the southeast Kansas district that was owned by now-State Treasurer Jake LaTurner. Don’t count on that happening.
So, Wagle has two or more likely three “extra” Republicans in her chamber. Not sure what’s going to happen in the House, but it just takes one chamber with veto override numbers to essentially run the state.
Oh, it requires Wagle to make sure that all but two or three Republicans are lined up behind her, but at least she has a solid 21-vote majority now that stretches to 22 or 23 or 24 on almost every issue that isn’t a strictly local issue in her chamber.
Now, if you have the votes in your chamber to essentially become the on/off switch on legislation, you are undoubtedly the most powerful person in the Statehouse.
How would that be used? Depends on who is governor.
Take Secretary of State Kobach, who might just get elected. Practically, he doesn’t know just how the Statehouse works, having been officed across the street and showing up in the Statehouse generally to testify against illegal aliens voting or doing much of anything else in Kansas.
Elect him, and he’ll need a legislative leader to help him put together a budget, and other bills, advising him on what will work, what won’t, and what he’ll have to give up to get most of what he wants and has campaigned on put into law.
Or take Sen. Kelly, who also might just get elected. She knows how the internal politics of the Statehouse and Legislature work and will undoubtedly be looking for expansion of Medicaid (KanCare) to provide health care for the state’s elderly, poor, disabled and their dependents, more money for schools and some way to quit swiping money from the highway fund.
That’s where Wagle is likely to see conservative Republican issues vetoed by Kelly probably create an override vote. And that’s where if Wagle can assemble a loyal 27 vote majority, she can force a bargaining match that will include provisions that both sides can call a victory. Wagle does know the negotiation process — as does Kelly — to make progress, though incrementally and slowly.
And if Greg Orman, the independent candidate, winds up governor somehow, well, it’s likely to be Wagle whose team assembles the budget, the major legislation of the session, and if she’s nice, gives Orman a chance to claim that he had some DNA in the product of the Legislature.
Much of the whoever-is-governor/Wagle scrapping will be done out of public view, if done right. Few voters are interested in that under-the-sheets fighting over provisions of appropriations bills or highway funding. They vote for leadership and making life in Kansas better.
How that works is going to be decided in the governor’s race. And just how big a new governor’s win is. Anyone expecting to line up behind a governor with…maybe 35 percent of the vote?
We’ll see, won’t we?
Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver’s Capitol Report