The Republican speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives who denied claims earlier this year that he was praying for the death of President Barack Obama announced his retirement on Friday morning in a speech that promoted his pro-life values.
House Speaker Mike O'Neal (R-Hutchison) used an emotional address to colleagues on the House's ceremonial last day to announce that he is not seeking reelection after 28 years of service as a legislator, including four as speaker. A hardline conservative, O'Neal talked about being adopted and hinted that this experience had led to his strong pro-life values.
He used the speech to take a small swipe at Missouri, Kansas' 162-year rival to the east.
"How close I came to becoming another Missouri abortion statistic," O'Neal told colleagues. "I owe my life to a mother I never met who chose a life for me."
During O'Neal four years as speaker, the Kansas House passed several pieces of anti-abortion rights legislation as the body has taken on a strong conservative bent. Last year the House passed a legislation, signed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, to limit the physical characteristics of buildings that house abortion clinics.
This year the House passed a measure that would allow doctors and pharmacists to refrain from offering referrals to abortions and contraceptions, if they morally objected to them, along with a sweeping 69-page anti-abortion-rights bill. The moderate Republican Senate blocked both bills.
Earlier this year, O'Neal sparked national controversy with emails to fellow Republicans in which he called First Lady Michelle Obama "Mrs. YoMama" and cited Psalm 109:8 with what some considered an implied reference to the president. The prayer states, "Let his days be few; and let another take his office." O'Neal apologized for the prayer email, saying he did not wish for the president to die, but resisted calls for his resignation.
O'Neal has presided over a conservative House that has engaged in an increasingly hostile civil war with the moderate Senate, a melee with roots in a broader statewide battle between moderate and conservative Republicans.
After several failed bids for the speaker job, he prevailed in winning the leadership role, he noted on Friday.
"I would have missed this time," he said. "Oh what I would have missed."
Under O'Neal's leadership, the Kansas House met nine days more than called for in its 90-day constitutional session this year and did not reach an agreement on a redistricting plan; the process has now been taken over by the federal courts.
"These past two years have been truly historic," he noted on Friday.
In the past two years while O'Neal served as speaker, the House and Senate sparred over education spending, a sweeping anti-trust reform measure, an overhaul of unemployment compensation, the state's strip-club policy and the method to be used to appoint state judges.
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