Hawkins, Kobach celebrate GOP’s political stand against Democrats at state, federal levels
OLATHE — House Speaker Dan Hawkins praised Saturday the work of Republican legislators and a conservative Kansas lobbying organization for striving to rein in government overreach and undercut the agenda of second-term Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
Hawkins, who is in his first year as the House’s top official, told philosophical adherents of Americans for Prosperity at a Johnson County picnic that progress was made during 2023 legislative session on altering Kansas law on election security, transgender sports, abortion, welfare and taxation. He said GOP legislators pushed back against the “woke” agenda related to diversity, equity and inclusion programs in education and intrusion of environmental, social and governance activists on pension investments.
He said tax reform was the GOP’s top priority, but the GOP had more success deflecting Kelly opposition to abortion legislation.
“This year was a good year,” Hawkins said. “We had a lot of wins. The losses we had kind of stung.”
Kelly vetoed more than a dozen bills in addition to a cluster of line-item vetoes targeting provisions in appropriations bills. Republicans in the House and Senate, despite wielding supermajorities in both chambers, were able to override the governor fewer than a dozen times.
The Legislature couldn’t muster votes to overcome veto of the Republicans’ most significant tax reform bill. It included transition from a three-rate individual income tax system to a flat, single-rate personal income tax system sought by the Kansas Chamber. The governor met weekly during the session with Hawkins and Masterson, and had warned them she wouldn’t sign a single-rate tax bill.
“Quite frankly, she should have signed it. Probably the best tax bill she’s ever going to see, because we are going to bring it back next year,” Hawkins said.
In an interview, Kelly said she was proud of the Legislature’s work during the annual session. She also said the GOP-controlled Legislature advanced ideas that ran against the state’s best interests.
“I feel very good about the session,” said Kelly, who served in the Kansas Senate from 2005 to 2019. “There’s some things that happened that I didn’t want to happen. I vetoed them and I was overridden. That’s just how it works.”
At the picnic with Americans for Prosperity, Hawkins said the Kansas Reflector ought to report that Kelly vetoed a tax bill that included changes she sought — ending one year early the state sales tax on groceries and raising the state tax exemption on Social Security benefits. For 2026 election purposes, Hawkins also blamed that tax veto on Lt. Gov. David Toland, who may run for governor.
“This is something the Reflector needs to write down,” the House speaker said. “Isn’t it ironic that the Kelly-Toland administration, who spent the whole time talking about ‘axe the tax,’ actually ended up axing the tax relief to you all. They don’t say that. Press doesn’t say that. Not once has the press written about that. Why? Because they love Kelly-Toland. Don’t like us.”
He promised the House and Senate would send a comparable tax reform bill to the governor’s desk in the first two weeks of the 2024 legislative session. It won’t include prompt deletion of the state sales tax on groceries, because existing law would phase it out in January 2025.
“See if she dares to veto it again. And if she does veto it, pray for us. Pray for us that we’ve got the votes on both sides (of House and Senate) to override that veto,” Hawkins said.
‘Not about the chicken’
Attorney General Kris Kobach touted adoption by the Legislature and the governor of a bill that eliminated the state fee for issuance of a concealed gun permit. On July 1, the $100 fee payable to the attorney general’s office will be dropped. It doesn’t remove the $32.50 fee that goes to county sheriffs where the applicant resides to cover the cost of taking fingerprints.
“It seems to me that you don’t have to pay a fee to exercise free speech rights. You’re not going to have to pay a fee to go to church on Sunday. You shouldn’t have to pay a fee to exercise your Second Amendment right,” Kobach said.
Kobach, a Republican, said he honored a campaign pledge to file lawsuits against President Joe Biden. Since taking office in January, he said, he has joined five multistate suits against the Biden administration. One involved the federal government’s effort to list the lesser prairie chicken as endangered.
“Before your eyes glaze over, it’s not about the chicken,” Kobach said. “It’s about oil. It’s the Biden administration’s war on oil. If this listing stays in effect, there will be no new oil wells drilled in the panhandle of Texas, the panhandle of Oklahoma or in the southwestern quarter of the state of Kansas.”
He also vowed to be part of a suit against the Biden administration’s regulation allowing certain immigrants to receive benefits through the Affordable Care Act because the federal government would declare them “lawfully present.” He said access to health care was an element of the Democratic Party’s scheme to attract new voters to replace citizens of the United States.
“In other words — magic wand — we’re going to pretend illegal aliens aren’t illegal aliens and they’re going to get Obamacare,” the attorney general said. “Well, guess who’s going to sue on that one? Kansas will bring that lawsuit, too.”
Kobach urged the audience to pray for justices of the U.S. Supreme Court who made up a conservative majority “because we need them to live long healthy lives.”
First downs, touchdowns
Steven Johnson, the Republican state treasurer, said complexion of the 2023 legislative session was altered when voters of Kansas decided in November to give Kelly a second term. She prevailed over Republican nominee Derek Schmidt, who served three terms as the state’s attorney general.
“Unfortunately, we have to work in a world where there’s a defense on some issues,” Johnson said. “We have to be able to get past a Democratic governor and still see policy at the end of the day. While we’re focused on touchdowns, we’re also focused on first downs.”
Johnson said he appreciated passage of a bill preventing the Kansas Public Employees Retirement System from engaging in contracts with portfolio managers that took into account environmental, social and governance factors when moving money around. Critics of ESG say that type of stockholder or pensioner advocacy made it more difficult for KPERS to deploy capital.
“We were able to accomplish the key things that we needed to make sure that there were not policies standing in the way that don’t allow us to get the best returns on the investments,” the state treasurer said.
The bill, which Kelly allowed to become law without her signature, prohibited use of ESG factors in terms of KPERS investments in fossil fuels, nuclear energy, agriculture and lumber production, mining and greenhouse gas emissions, and firearm manufacturing and sales.
Rep. Chris Croft, the Republican majority leader of the Kansas House and a retired U.S. Army colonel, said the Kansas House had more than 20 military veterans in the Legislature. That’s comparable to the 18% among members of the U.S. House.
“We’ve got to do more. We’ve got to go further,” he said. “I believe the military teaches us to identify problems and solve problems. That’s what we’re here to do for you — solve problems and make Kansas a better place to live.”
He said U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, the GOP congressman serving the 2nd District in Kansas, had three military installations in his district and served on the House Appropriations Committee. That positioned LaTurner to help defend Kansas facilities and bring new military personnel to the state, Croft said.
“Let’s talk about how good Kansas is. Not how bad things are. We have a great state, we really do. The people here are incredible,” he said.