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Kansas Senate president rails against wokeness in response to governor’s annual speech

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Kansas Senate president rails against wokeness in response to governor’s annual speech

Jan 24, 2023 | 9:08 pm ET
By Rachel Mipro
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Kansas Senate president rails against wokeness in response to governor’s annual speech
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Senate President Ty Masterson gathers with colleagues in the Senate chamber before walking to the House for Gov. Laura Kelly's State of the State speech. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — The Republican president of the Kansas Senate said Tuesday that Kansans should appreciate Gov. Laura Kelly is governing near the ditch on the left side of the road rather than from the center as she has claimed on many occasions.

“On many issues, the governor’s party has her walking down the far left lane, if not the ditch outside of that,” Senate President Ty Masterson, of Wichita, said in a speech responding to Kelly’s State of the State address.

Despite this belief, Masterson said he was cautiously optimistic that she would be able to work with Republicans in the House and Senate on lowering the state income tax burden. He supports legislation to make the state’s tax code “lower, flatter and simpler.” 

Lawmakers are planning to vote on wide-ranging tax reforms this legislative session because the state treasury holds an unprecedented $2 billion surplus. In addition to income tax reform, one idea floated by Republicans and Democrats has been a brief sales tax holiday for families buying school supplies. There is bipartisan interest in speeding elimination of the state sales tax on groceries scheduled to be eliminated in January 2025.

Masterson said he was not impressed by Kelly’s claim that her administration’s budget approach had led to the surplus, saying it was an easy accomplishment with the federal government flooding state governments with COVID-19 and economic stimulus aid. 

“Let’s be completely honest, when it comes to the budget, it was not a big accomplishment for any of us to ‘balance’ a budget with hundreds of millions in printed federal dollars awash in the system,” Masterson said.

He emphasized the need to deposit a large portion of the surplus in the state’s rainy day fund, saying he believed President Joe Biden’s administration would cause a recession with “disastrous policies.” In 2022, the Legislature put $1 billion into the reserve account. Some legislators, including Masterson, said it might be necessary for another $1 billion to be added to the reserve fund. In her released legislative budget for the session, Kelly planned on adding $500 million to a state’s rainy-day fund.

Masterson urged Kelly to resist the temptation of using the money to “overspend and grow government.”

He remains strongly opposed to Kelly’s proposal to broaden eligibility for Medicaid to more than 100,000 lower-income Kansans. He said government-run health care shouldn’t be expanded, and that it would harm more vulnerable Kansans. 

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said the Kansas GOP leadership could be considered obstructionists in terms of responding to Kelly’s agenda.

“With no election at stake, Kansas Republicans have nothing to hide behind when they obstruct these common sense policies that will improve their constituents’ lives,” Sykes said. “Kansans who support the vision for our state laid out this evening by Governor Kelly should not accept any games by the supermajority, but demand progress and cross-party cooperation.”

Masterson and House Speaker Dan Hawkins, also of Wichita, said at the opening of the 2023 legislative session the GOP would put in motion a legislative agenda anchored to culture issues, including the “sexualized, woke agenda,” protection of parental authority in schools, implementation of a transgender student athlete sports ban and imposition of abortion regulations.

Masterson reiterated these ideas in the GOP response to Kelly’s address, saying Kansas children are at risk of a “sexualized woke agenda,” and a “radicalized woke agenda.” The Senate president and other Republican leaders have yet to articulate what this “woke agenda” entails. 

He blamed public education unions for spreading a “woke agenda,” saying the unions feared parental input and that Kelly and her party were at the mercy of these unions. 

“This path is resulting in our schools devolving into little more than factories for a radical social agenda,” Masterson said. “This is why she vetoed the parents bill of rights — but we will give her another chance this session. If she’s truly in the middle of the road, she’ll buck the radical elements of her party and sign the bill.”

A form of the educational bill of rights was debated last year, but didn’t become law. The legislation has been criticized by teachers and education officials for encouraging skepticism of classroom instructional materials and inciting challenges to books in school libraries.

Legislation that would have blocked transgender athletes from taking part in athletic teams designated for girls or women also failed last year. Masterson said they would bring the transgender bill back this session, and that Kelly should sign the measure this time.  

“Republicans also celebrate women’s sports and recognize that to ensure a level playing field for all who compete, biological men should not compete in women’s sports,” Masterson said. “It has nothing to do with sexuality or gender, it’s simply about fairness and science. It’s for that same reason we divide athletes up in weight classes or separate varsity from junior varsity.” 

Abortion was also emphasized in Masterson’s speech. He said Republican leadership would strive to reduce abortions in Kansas by expanding state funding of crisis pregnancy centers, emphasizing adoption and preserving what he called common-sense abortion measures in the state. 

Recently introduced legislation would prohibit the prescription of abortion drugs through telemedicine and allow counties and cities to determine abortion regulations as long as they’re as strict or stricter than the state’s abortion laws. 

Masterson said Kelly and her party were “allowing the most inhumane procedures up to, and even past, the moment of birth,” implying the political position of Kansas Democrats allows babies to be killed after birth. Abortions in Kansas are illegal after 22 weeks of gestation, except in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy. State records show there have been no abortions performed outside this 22-week window in recent years. 

Masterson said energy policy in the state should focus on gas, coal and nuclear energy to ensure reliable heating and cooling for Kansans. He said Democrats were swayed toward alternative “green” energy sources  by climate activists and moving away from gas and coal would hurt the economy. 

“It is our hope that the governor will again resist the extreme elements in her party and work with us to reduce utility rates and protect our economy,” Masterson said. 

Masterson ended his speech by saying he and other Republicans in the Legislature would try to seek compromise with Kelly and cling to a spirit of cooperation during the 90-day legislative session.