Kansas’ state legislative Republican primaries alter the ideological makeup of GOP caucus

On August 4, 12 of the 28 Republican state legislative incumbents facing primary challenges in Kansas lost their primaries. These results could alter the makeup of the Republican caucus in 2021.

Local media sources like The Wichita Eagle, Shawnee Mission Post, and The Kansas City Star identified nine incumbents whose primaries and defeats were representative of an intra-party divide over issues including Medicaid expansion and abortion laws.

Michael Ryan wrote in The Kansas City Star, “A good number of conservatives absolutely washed over their more moderate state legislative opponents in Tuesday’s Republican primary election.”

Jonathan Shorman wrote in The Wichita Eagle, “The influence of Kansas Republican moderates has waxed and waned. Gov. Sam Brownback [(R)] helped oust them in 2012. Voters then swept them back into office in 2016 to end his signature income tax cuts and stabilize the budget.” Shorman continued, “But with last week’s primary losses, their ranks have been depleted to levels not seen for years.”

The following six state senators lost Republican primaries this year. All were first elected in 2016, the year of the most recent state senate elections. Sens. John Skubal, Bruce Givens, Randall Hardy, and Edward Berger defeated Republican incumbents in primaries themselves that year.

• District 11: Sen. John Skubal, lost to Kellie Warren 64-36%
• District 14: Sen. Bruce Givens, lost to Michael Fagg 54-46%
• District 15: Sen. Dan Goddard, lost to Virgil Peck, Jr. 50.1-49.9%
• District 24: Sen. Randall Hardy, lost to J.R. Claeys 63-37%
• District 33: Sen. Mary Jo Taylor, lost to Alicia Straub 60-40%
• District 34: Sen. Edward Berger, lost to Mark Steffen 57.5%-42.5%

The following three state representatives lost Republican primaries this year.

• District 20: Rep. Jan Kessinger, lost to Jane Dirks 57-43%
• District 42: Rep. Jim Karleskint, lost to Lance Neelly 52-48%
• District 71: Rep. Diana Dierks, lost to Steven Howe 62-38%

Local media outlets identified the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment as a noteworthy issue in the primaries featuring Sen. Skubal and Rep. Kessinger. If passed, the measure would have placed a legislatively referred constitutional amendment on the August 4 ballot stating that there is no right to abortion or public funding for abortions in the Kansas Constitution.

A two-thirds vote of all members in each chamber of the Kansas State Legislature was required to refer the amendment to the ballot for voter consideration.

In the Senate, that equaled 27 votes and, in the House, 84. Republicans held supermajorities in both the Senate and House with 29 and 84 members, respectively, equal or greater to the two-thirds threshold in both chambers.

Skubal and Kessinger voted against placing the measure on the ballot. The Senate approved the amendment. Kessinger and three other Republicans joined 39 Democrats to vote against the amendment in the House, resulting in a final vote of 80-43, four votes short of passage.

Skubal’s and Kessinger’s primary defeats and the retirement of the three House Republicans who voted against the amendment with Kessinger means none of the five Republicans who opposed the No Right to Abortion in Constitution Amendment will return for the 2021 legislative session.

Heading into the November elections, Kansas has a divided government. Republicans control both the Senate and the House. Democrats hold the governorship following Gov. Laura Kelly’s election in 2018. The next gubernatorial election will be held on November 8, 2022. In the Senate, Republicans will retain a veto-proof supermajority if they gain seats, hold their current number of seats, or lose a net of two seats. In the House, Republicans will retain a veto-proof majority if they gain or hold their current number seats. If Democrats gain a net of one seat, they will control more than one-third of the House seats.

To read more background, local commentary, and historical data on Kansas’ state legislative Republican primaries, click here.




About the author

Douglas Kronaizl

Douglas Kronaizl is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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