New Kansas Leaders Wagle, Merrick Say Cooperation Is Key

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/WIBW) _ Johnson County Republican Ray Merrick is the new speaker of the Kansas House.

Merrick won on a second ballot Monday over fellow Johnson County representative Arlen Siegfried.

Republicans elected Susan Wagle of Wichita as Senate president. Wagle is the first woman to lead either legislative chamber. She defeated Steve Abrams of Arkansas City.

Both Merrick and Wagle say they'll strive to work with their colleagues to solve the issues facing the state, chief among them another projected budget shortfall.

Merrick says he previously served in the Senate and currently works with Wagle on national legislative committees, so predicts there will not be the gridlock there's been in the past between the chambers.

Wagle says a willingness to work together will be key in resolving the budget crisis.

When the session begins in January, Republicans will outnumber Democrats 32-8 in the Senate and 92-33 in the House.

Party primaries in August saw the conservative wing of the Republican Party oust several moderates, including Senate President Steve Morris. In the House, Speaker Mike O'Neal retired after 28 years in the chamber, including two terms as speaker.

Democrats re-elected Anthony Hensley, of Topeka, as Senate minority leader and Paul Davis, of Lawrence, as House minority leader.

Hensley says he'll wait and see how the new conservative leadership works with the Republican caucus as a whole. He says he's willing to work with anyone who's willing to work with him. Hensley has expressed concerns that the conservatives controlling the chambers give a clear path to proposals from the Brownback administration which Hensley calls "reckless," including the governor's package of tax cuts.

But Merrick says he is open to ideas from Democrats, saying he has had a good working relationship with Davis. Merrick previously served as House Majority Leader.

On a personal note, Wagle says her election holds special personal meaning, coming off seven months of chemotherapy treatments. She says it is "overwhelming" and she appreciates her colleagues "standing with me through this ordeal."

Kansas State Sen. Susan Wagle, R, 30th District (photo from
Kansas State Sen. Ray Merrick, R, District 37 (photo from