Top Senate Republican: Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop should step down from leadership role
The highest-ranking member of the Kansas Senate called on Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop to step down from his leadership post Friday after a tumultuous 24-hour period for Suellentrop and body as a whole.
The remarks from Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, come a day after new details came to light about Suellentrop's alleged wrong-way drunk driving incident on Interstate 70 last month.
Affidavits released Thursday show Suellentrop's blood alcohol content was twice the legal limit and the Kansas Highway Patrol trooper who stopped the lawmakers said Suellentrop taunted and threatened him.
Then Republicans nearly needed Suellentrop, who returned to his Wichita district after the court documents were revealed, to come back to Topeka on Thursday night and cast the deciding vote on a controversial education funding bill.
While Suellentrop has said he ceded many of his leadership duties to Assistant Majority Leader Larry Alley, R-Winfield, Masterson said it was time he formally stepped down from his role.
"Obviously consequences need to come, it is a matter of time," Masterson said. "I do think when emotions are high you don't make your best decisions. But I think it's clear the majority leader needs to vacate the leadership office."
Pressure mounts on Gene Suellentrop from colleagues
It comes as an increasing number of rank-and-file members have expressed frustration with the situation, with Suellentrop's legal woes casting an increasingly large shadow over the waning days of the legislative session.
Freshman Sen. Rick Kloos, R-Topeka, pushed for a vote on Suellentrop's future during a Republican caucus meeting Friday morning. Masterson noted such a move wasn't possible as of yet but said the GOP members would discuss the matter later in the day.
Kloos told reporters he had conversations with other members, who shared his frustration with the events of the previous 24 hours.
It is unclear whether a vote to determine Suellentrop's future would come today or when lawmakers return in May to take up a final slate of legislative business. Kloos said he wanted some sense of closure before that happens.
"It's so we can all rest during our break off," he said. "It's just time. We've all been patient. And with the revelations yesterday I just felt like it was time."
Tensions come day after court document release
Suellentrop was stopped and arrested in the early morning hours of March 16 after driving the wrong way on Interstate 470 and then I-70 for upwards of 10 minutes.
Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced on March 26 he had refiled charges against Suellentrop, which include felony eluding law enforcement and misdemeanor driving under the influence.
But court documents released Thursday gave new light to the allegations against Suellentrop. Sworn testimony from KHP officer Austin Shepley, the trooper who stopped Suellentrop, showed he had at least two near-collisions with oncoming motorists.
Shepley alleged Suellentrop later made physical threats while a blood test to determine his inebriation was conducted. He said the lawmaker taunted him, calling him "donut boy" and that Suellentrop said he could "take him" in a physical confrontation.
Later in the day, senators invoked a procedural move to force all 40 senators to vote on the legislation after it became apparent a key education bill was one vote shy of passage.
One of the two missing members was Suellentrop, who wasn't present in Topeka after the court documents were released. It appeared likely Suellentrop would have been forced to cast the deciding vote until legislators changed course and opted to resume the debate Friday.
Masterson defended the push to secure Suellentrop's vote at the time, pointing out that he was still a sitting senator despite his legal woes.
"I would think the people of his district would want him to vote," Masterson said Thursday night. "Otherwise, they don't have representation. Who would be uncomfortable?"
Masterson said he expects Suellentrop will be on the floor for that vote Friday. He noted the events have had a significant effect on the Senate's operations.
"You saw some of the effects last night," he said. "What it is is unnecessary emotion, unnecessary anger, unnecessary power plow. Those are the downsides."