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Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson Leads by Building Coalitions

By Taylor Huhn  |  February 2, 2022

Ty Masterson’s grandmother always said, “Don’t complain if you’re not willing to do something.” So, when he became frustrated with his local government, he followed her advice.

“I was building housing at the time, and it became cost prohibitive,” Masterson said of his run for city council. “I decided I’d better do something about it. I naively printed black-and-white signs and knocked on doors, but I didn’t realize it was a bit of a good old boys’ club at the time, and politicians didn’t go out and do that.”

It became apparent that I had some ability to build consensus with people. I was policy-focused, so I built coalitions around policy. —Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson

Masterson won handily—“because I was out in the neighborhood knocking”—and was recruited within the year to fill the seat of his state representative, who had resigned.

“I thought I was only going to fill the back half of a term,” Masterson says. “That was 16 years ago.”

Masterson has spent the last 13 years in the Kansas Senate and became its president a year ago. He sat down with the NCSL Leaders’ Center to reflect on his path to legislative leadership and his first year as Senate president and to look ahead to the new session.

Once you got to the Legislature, what made you want to take the next step and move into a leadership role?

It became apparent that I had some ability to build consensus with people. I was policy-focused, so I built coalitions around policy. Eventually, that naturally developed into being pursued for leadership and ultimately throwing my hat in the ring.

Two years before I became president, I started a group called the Truth Caucus. It was a bipartisan group, but center-right in its policy. Almost 70 members of the Legislature joined it, and when power transitioned in the Senate, I was kind of the heir apparent. I actually became president by acclamation.

Looking back, I had no idea I was laying the groundwork for becoming president through that caucus. I’d like to tell you it was all strategic, but it was really God putting things in place.

In 2021, the Kansas Legislature held a historic special session to address COVID-19 vaccination requirements. This was the first time the Legislature itself gathered the signatures to request the session, rather than the governor calling the session. Can you tell us more about that unusual process?

It was highly unusual. It’s been attempted by the Legislature several times, but it never actually was accomplished.

It was also historic in that it was the shortest special session in Kansas history. We accomplished everything in 13 hours and were able to achieve the governor’s signature in the middle of divided government.

What would you say allowed you to be successful in such a short amount of time?

A lot of that was just planning. Since we had gone through a committee process and heard from the public, when we rang in, we had language immediately introduced and referred directly to the floor in both chambers. This allowed both chambers to begin debate at the same time.

Since both chambers passed the language in a single bill, at the end of debate all we had to do was a quick conference committee to iron out any remaining details and then come back to the floor. It was around midnight when we finished, but we were done.

The other key variable that made this all possible was that I stayed in communication with the governor’s office. I had to keep in mind what it would take to acquire her signature. I negotiated with the governor in advance, and I said that as long as she would publicly state that she would sign our bill, then we would go ahead and adjourn after passing it. Otherwise, we would have been forced to stay in session. As soon as we passed the final product, the governor put out a press release confirming that she would sign it, so we went ahead and adjourned.

What is exciting to you right now about the upcoming regular session, and what challenges or obstacles do you see coming?

We’ve got some big issues. This is the session where we have to take on redistricting. That’s always an exciting time, a once-in-10-years process. We also have all the stimulus dollars that have flown out from the federal government and filtered down to our state budgets. We have more cash in the bank than we’ve ever seen before, but we know a lot of it is one-time money.

In terms of challenges, we have all the same challenges that you have every session. It’s the typical 3D chess of leadership in a chamber where it’s not just the policy and the process, but there’s the Z axis: the people and the personalities and the inter-chamber relationships that play a role.

What would people be most surprised to learn about you?

I have a commercial driver’s license, and I’m licensed to drive semis and pull up the triple trailers. People that know me in politics don’t know that I have blue-collar roots.

Is there a book you’ve read recently that really impacted you?

The book I’m reading right now is actually “God Works All Things Together for Your Good.” The title is based on a verse in the Bible, Romans 8:28. It talks about a lot of servant leadership and similar principles.

Who do you view as a role model for leadership?

It’s Jesus Christ. He was willing to wash feet from the position he was in, and he was somebody who was very focused on others. He taught in parables and asked a lot of questions, and he made his lessons relatable.

What hopes do you have for Kansas’ future?

I would like to see Kansas create an environment where we can really grow. We’re landlocked. We don’t have tourism like you have on the coasts and in the mountains. So I’d love to see us create an innovative environment where people want to live and work here. For a lot of native Kansans, that is already the case. We know it’s a great place to raise a family.

Taylor Huhn is a senior program specialist in NCSL’s Leaders and International Program. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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