Sen. Karin Brownlee won’t represent Gardner, Edgerton and part of Spring Hill much longer in the state Senate.
Gov.-Elect Sam Brownback recently named the Olathe Republican to his cabinet as the Secretary for the Department of Labor. She pursued a new role in the capitol, in part, because she’s been a member of a conservative minority in the state legislature, she said.
“And there’s a sense that it’s very difficult to accomplish much when you’re in the minority,” she said. “When you’re leading an agency, you have some ability to accomplish things.”
Officially, Brownlee said her resignation of the 23rd Kansas District Senate seat will be effective Jan. 10, however the process to replace her will begin once her letter of resignation reaches the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office.
Clayton Barker, general counsel for the Kansas Republican Party, said once the Secretary of State notifies Johnson County Republican Party Chair Ronnie Metsker, he will have 21 days to call a replacement convention. Metsker will need to give precinct committeemen and women at least seven days notice.
Registered Republicans elect precinct committee men and committee women every two years – one man and one woman in each precinct. In many cases, the positions are appointed by the county chair. And in others, the precinct positions remain unfilled.
Although the replacement convention will be open to the public, the precinct committee people will elect the next Senator by secret ballot.
At least two candidates — Rep. Rob Olson, who represents Olathe in the Kansas House; and Olathe City Council member Ron Ryckman — have expressed interest in replacing Brownlee in the state Senate. In order to garner her seat, they’ll have to be nominated on the floor during the replacement convention.
“Once those are closed, each nominator gives a small speech,” Barker explained. “Each of the candidates also gets to talk. There’s usually a question and answer period.”
When that concludes, precinct committee people cast a secret ballot. In order to secure the seat, a candidate must receive more than 50 percent of the votes cast. If no candidate receives that number, the bottom vote getter is knocked off the ballot and the precinct people re-vote.
“I know that sounds simple,” Barker said.
However, he said with several candidates, the path to replacing a position can get hairy.
For example, at a replacement convention in Western Kansas, the precinct people deadlocked at a vote of 5 to 5 to 2 to 2 to 2 to 2.
“Weird stuff can happen,” Barker said.
And in the meantime, the campaigning has already begun. But voters shouldn’t expect to see mailers or campaign commercials.
Instead, interested parties will work the list of precinct men and women.
“The campaigning is not really at the convention,” Barker said. “It’s really beforehand.”
Barker said voters’ voices are part of the process in that they elected the precinct leaders.
“(Voters) could call their precinct leaders and urge them to vote a certain way,” Barker said.
He noted that there won’t be a lot of public notice for the replacement convention, though.
“And it’s too expensive to have a real election – especially with the (legislative) session starting on (Jan.) 11th. It needs to be done quickly,” he said.
Constituents of the 23rd District can still contact Brownlee with concerns, she said.
“I would do my best to still help them or steer them to another legislature that can help them,” she said. “And then I’d want to begin to bring whoever’s elected – once that happens, I would want to bring them in on those things.”
Brownlee looks forward to serving 23rd District residents in her new capacity. As the Dept. of Labor Secretary, she will primarily oversee the administration of unemployment compensation and some union negotiations.
One of her first goals will be to complete an upgrade to the department’s computer system. The updated system will allow people to track their unemployment status and filings online. The system wasn’t ready to go when the recession started.
“The redo of that is critical,” she said. “We’re used to getting online to do our banking and purchasing and so forth. But when people needed to get their unemployment benefits in a timely manner, they were not afforded that benefit.”