A Southeast Kansas insurance agent is the state Senate's newest member.
Republican Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, of Baxter Springs, was sworn in Monday. His wife, Marisa, held a Bible as the oath was administered by Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss.
The 48-year-old Hilderbrand succeeds former GOP Sen. Jake LaTurner, of Pittsburg. Gov. Sam Brownback appointed LaTurner to be the state treasurer last month to replace Republican Ron Estes after Estes won a special congressional election. The congressional seat was formerly held by CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
"I decided to run because I think that we still need strong, conservative voices in Topeka," Hilderbrand said in a telephone interview with the Globe. "I just look forward to coming up and representing the constituents of District 13 the best I can and make sure their voices are heard in Topeka."
Republicans in the 13th Senate District picked Hilderbrand as the new senator over the weekend. Hilderbrand, who has a Shelter Insurance office in Baxter Springs, previously served seven years on the Cherokee County Commission.
He joins the state government at a time when legislators are grappling with some thorny budget and tax issues.
"It's going to be trial by fire," Senate President Susan Wagle, a Wichita Republican, told Hilderbrand after the brief swearing-in ceremony.
Lawmakers returned Monday from their annual spring break with the state facing projected budget shortfalls totaling $889 million through June 2019.
The Republican-controlled Legislature so far has focused on rolling back past income tax cuts championed by Brownback, who vetoed an income tax bill in February that would have raised more than $1 billion in new revenue over two years. Lawmakers have struggled since to find an alternative, partly because many of them want a plan with the necessary two-thirds majority to override another veto.
GOP leaders hoped House and Senate negotiators could get together this week to work on a new tax plan. They said once tax issues are settled, lawmakers can determine how much additional state dollars to provide to public schools in response to a Kansas Supreme Court ruling in March that education funding is inadequate.
Hilderbrand said he hopes to get feedback from residents of the 13th District on many of those issues.
"It's going to take a lot of time to get as much information as I can," he said. "That way, I can make the best decisions for constituents."
The Associated Press and Globe staff writer Emily Younker contributed to this report.
Richard Hilderbrand will have to run in a special election in 2018 to keep the Kansas Senate seat for another two years.