Senate president strips three GOP colleagues of committee assignments

Pyle, Straub and Steffen initially voted against congressional redistricting map

TOPEKA — Senate President Ty Masterson let the dust settle Thursday on the congressional redistricting map debate before sanctioning three Republican colleagues for initially refusing to support the veto override of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.

Masterson relied on his unilateral authority as elected leader of the Senate to remove Sen. Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha from the Senate’s transportation and utilities committees. He stripped Sen. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson of membership on the Senate tax committee and removed him as vice chairman of the Senate commerce committee.

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Sen. Alicia Straub, who is from Ellinwood, lost seats on the Senate’s local government committee and the chamber’s transparency and ethics committee. She also surrendered her vice chairmanship of the Senate agriculture committee.

“To maintain unity in the caucus,” Masterson said, “these changes were necessary.”

Kelly, who is seeking re-election in 2022, vetoed the map recasting boundaries of the state’s four congressional districts. She objected to the GOP’s strategy of moving a large number of Wyandotte County’s minority voters into the 2nd District served by U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, a Republican. The GOP map softened the blow for LaTurner by transferring Lawrence from his district to the 1st District represented by U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, also a Republican.

The underlying objective for scrambling the boundaries was to weaken potential of U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the state’s lone Democrat in the federal delegation, when she runs for re-election later this year.

On Monday, the Kansas Senate scheduled the override vote requiring support from two-thirds of senators, or 27 of the chamber’s 40 members. Steffen, Straub and Pyle joined Senate Democrats to block the override bid. On the rebound Tuesday, Steffen and Straub changed their votes to “yes,” which secured the minimum 27 votes for the override, while Pyle changed his vote to “pass.”

Steffen said after the override that he remained disappointed with the map contained in Senate Bill 355 because the large, agrarian 1st District shouldn’t have to host Lawrence after the district previously was compelled to absorb Manhattan.

“Ten years ago, redistricting brought us liberal Manhattan,” Steffen said. “Now, they are dumping the Lawrence liberals in our lap. Just like illegal hunting killed off our buffalo in the 1800s, insidious redistricting will kill off the true conservative character of my beloved Big First.”

The Kansas House completed the override with less drama, compiling 85 of 125 votes to affirm implementation of the congressional map known as Ad Astra 2.

Lynn Rogers, the Democratic state treasurer and former lieutenant governor to Kelly, said the GOP leadership’s backroom deals succeeded in imposing the gerrymandered map on Kansans. The new map is expected to be the target of lawsuits contesting movement of minority voters away from their communities of interest.

“We face an expensive court battle over district lines that they very likely will not win, but that will be an unnecessary waste of taxpayer dollars,” Rogers said. “Up and down the ballot, we need to elect more Kansan Democrats to keep a check on the Kansas GOP.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2020 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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