By Diane Silver
[updated 5:45 pm]
Well, this is interesting. Republicans in the Kansas House of Representatives have just thumbed their collective noses at voters by electing arch-conservative Melvin Neufeld as speaker.
Neufeld, a farmer from western Kansas and the current chair of the House Appropriations Committee, is a longtime member of the farthest right wing of the Kansas Legislature. His election yesterday to the 2nd most powerful post in state government is a bad sign for the forces of moderation. It took two ballots for the majority Republican caucus to elect Neufeld, but in the end he won.
I remember Neufeld well from my work as a reporter in the Statehouse. At that time, he was a friendly but powerless back-bencher known to all as simply "Melvin." My most vivid memory of him involved a speech he gave pushing an anti-abortion proposal.
As he stood speaking on the floor of the House, the chamber emptied, particularly of what was then the moderate Republican leadership of the House. They all went back to the then-speaker's office behind the podium and laughed at him. I know this happened because I was standing in their midst at the time.
I guess Neufeld gets the last laugh now. The question, though, is what will he do with his new power?
Will he have grown from the inconsequential person I knew more than a decade ago? Will he have matured beyond the soul who was once accused of trying to blackmail another lawmaker into voting his way? Will he remember that as speaker his job involves the whole state and not just those few who share his beliefs?
The fact that conservatives took over all the majority Republican leadership posts in the House is frightening and frustrating. It's as if the people under the Statehouse dome didn't hear, or perhaps even notice, what the voters did on Nov. 7.
The Kansas City Star provides more detailed coverage of Neufeld's elevation to power. The Lawrence Journal-World has the most complete and interesting story on the speaker's election.
UPDATE: Hat tip to Thoughts From Kansas for providing a link to Kansas RINO's post and details on the Kansas Supreme Court decision involving the blackmail allegations. The decision gives blow-by-blow detail of the accusations against Neufeld.