TOPEKA — Bipartisan majorities in the Kansas Senate voted Wednesday to confirm three nominees to the Kansas Board of Regents recommended by Gov. Laura Kelly.
The process of considering nominations of former BNSF Railway executive Carl Ice, retired Kansas City school superintendent Cynthia Lane and former banker and state Sen. Wint Winter took on an unusually high level of political intrigue as some GOP lawmakers sought to derail Kelly’s picks of Lane and Winter to the state board with oversight of more than 30 public universities, community colleges and technical colleges.
The Senate Education Committee conducted an extensive evaluation of the nominees despite a unanimous vote of support last year by the interim Senate Confirmation Committee. The three nominees had been participating fully in Board of Regents meetings for months.
Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, said evidence raised in the extended process resulted in a recommendation Ice be confirmed. She said the other nominees — Winter and Lane — were forwarded to the Senate without a recommendation because some lawmakers were convinced the nominees hadn’t been sufficiently transparent in answers to 44 written questions and a series of additional oral inquiries.
“They did have a fair hearing,” Baumgardner said. “It is up to this body to assure that the nomination process and the appointment process isn’t perfunctory.”
Sen. Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, urged senators unwilling to vote against a nominee to consider passing on the Board of Regents nominations. That same tactic could be relied upon by senators not 100% convinced in viability of a nominee, he said. If there were enough passing and no votes to block nominees, he said, Kelly would be forced to come back to the Senate with new picks for the Board of Regents
Ice won unanimous support from the Senate with a 38-0 vote. The margin for Winter was 24-9, while Lane was confirmed 23-11. Four Republican senators passed on Winter and Lane. Two GOP senators were absent.
Before the votes, Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, delivered a speech endorsing each of the governor’s nominees for the Board of Regents.
“Having active and engaged members of this board will help in planning and oversight of secondary education in Kansas,” Francisco said. “I would be remiss if I didn’t specifically express my support for Senator Wint Winter. He was a member of the Kansas Senate for 10 years and did a good job.”
During the Senate Education Committee hearings, questions were raised by GOP lawmakers about political allegiances of the individuals selected by the Democratic governor. They quizzed Winter about his opposition to re-election of then-Gov. Sam Brownback, while Lane was questioned about her involvement in a school-finance lawsuit that led to a finding the Legislature’s approach to funding K-12 public schools was unconstitutional.
The political dimension of the Senate’s consideration of the nominees was unusual given that three of six members of the Board of Regents, aside from the three just confirmed, previously served in the Legislature.
In addition, Brownback selected Helen Van Etten, who served as Republican National Committeewoman, to serve on the board in 2013 at the same time she served in that high-level Republican Party position.
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