MANHATTAN — A six-pack of Republican lawmakers amplified for faithful party members their resolve to challenge Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes of bills on gun rights, tax reductions and fair elections along with a smattering of legislative diversions into transgender athletics, distinctive license plates and school curriculum mandates.
More than 200 attendees at the annual Kansas Republican Party convention — the Hilton Garden Inn’s first big gathering since COVID-19 descended — feasted Friday on words of three senators and three representatives eager to put to a vote in early May the proposition that Kelly’s vetoes were out of step with sensibilities of Republicans.
“You guys heard all kinds of things she vetoed the last couple days. Trust me. We can’t wait to go back and override those and let your voices be heard,” said House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican.
Kelly, so far, has vetoed eight bills passed by the Legislature that could be ripe for overrides. She might still veto provisions of the new state budget or reject the measure in its entirety. House and Senate leadership have started working to secure the two-thirds majorities required to kill the governor’s vetoes.
“Some we think we’ll have no problem whatsoever,” said McPherson Sen. Rick Wilborn, vice president of the Senate. “Of course, we will have some that will be a pretty long reach. It will take a lot of whipping — broken bones — whatever word you want to use.”
In addition to overrides, Sen. Kellie Warren, R-Leawood, said the Legislature should use time at the end of the session to take up bills modifying Kelly’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rep. Blaine Finch, the House speaker pro tem from Ottawa, said it was irritating that Kelly, for the third time, vetoed tax policy offering Kansas businesses and individuals the benefits of federal tax reform signed into law by President Donald Trump.
And, Finch said, the governor vexed Republicans by vetoing a specialty license plate bill because the roster of new plates helpful to nonprofits included a Gadsden flag, an image appropriated by white supremacists. Kelly said the yellow Gadsden flag became, over time, a symbol of racism and divisiveness.
“Look, in the Legislature, you learn right away it’s a lot like being married,” Finch said. “Nobody gets everything they want. You’ve got to give and take a little bit.”
Nixing transgender bill
Kelly also rejected a bill preventing transgender girls and women from paying on girls and women’s high school and college sports teams. She likewise shot down two measures — House Bill 2183 and House Bill 2332 — she felt were intended to make it more difficult for people to participate in elections with use of advance ballots.
“It is designed to disenfranchise Kansans, making it difficult for them to participate in the democratic process, not to stop voter fraud,” Kelly said.
Sen. Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican on the GOP convention panel and the acting Senate majority leader, said reversing vetoes of the election bills was a priority. He said the state needed fair and transparent elections in 2022 because it was important to “make sure that we get the right people in there.”
House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat not part of the GOP forum in Manhattan, said the election bills were written “to disproportionately harm elderly Kansans, college students and members of the military trying to exercise their right to vote.”
“Furthermore, they continue a dangerous trend of taking away powers from other elected officials. The governor and secretary of state deserve the authority entrusted to them by the voters to appropriately respond to emergencies, including when it comes to elections,” Sawyer said.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who is running for governor in 2022, said Kelly’s veto of House Bill 2058 was ill-advised because it derailed a solution to a problem in the concealed firearm permitting process discovered when the governor closed driver’s license offices in the pandemic. He also questioned the wisdom of the governor inhibiting 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying concealed with a license, given state law allowing teenagers to openly carry firearms.
Kelly’s veto pen also struck down an effort to offer a gun safety program in schools endorsed by the National Rifle Association, and the plan to mandate high school students enroll in a financial literacy class and pass a civics test based on the U.S. citizenship exam.
Defining Gov. Kelly
Senate President Ty Masterson, who didn’t appear on the panel in Manhattan, said the collection of legislation deflected by the governor had been passed with strong majorities.
“It’s disappointing that the governor has decided to use her veto pen to placate the hard left rather than support mainstream policies supported by most Kansans,” Masterson said. “Republicans will respond to the governor’s veto-a-rama with a veto-override-a-rama when we return in May.”
Ryckman, the House speaker, said resumption of the legislative session May 3 would help define what Kelly stood for and against by virtue of her vetoes.
Her vetoes are likely to come into play as part of the campaign to deny her a second term as governor. Kelly is seeking re-election, and a pair of GOP heavyweights — former Gov. Jeff Colyer and Schmidt — have declared their candidacies for the Republican nomination for governor.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure your voices is heard,” Ryckman told the GOP crowd. “Regardless of what happens, there will be a line drawn between what Governor Kelly thinks the state should be and what the folks you elected think the state can be.”
House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, R-Wichita, made the mission clear: “We’re going to have fun. She vetoed some of our best legislation.”
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