TOPEKA — After 27 years in office, the longest-serving woman in the state Legislature, Jo Ann Pottorff, is calling it a career.
Pottorff, 76, has served in the House of Representatives since 1985; before that, she was an eight-year member of the Wichita school board.
"I’ve been in office a long time," Pottorff said. "It’s time to winter someplace besides Topeka."
Pottorff said she does not plan to seek any other political office, but plans to travel with her husband, Gary, who also served on the Wichita school board, for 12 years.
Pottorff said the biggest change she’s noticed during her 27 years is in the Legislature’s attitude toward schools, amidst the rise of "outside groups" that are highly critical of public education and spending.
"I don’t think I’ve changed, but I think the Legislature has changed through the years, the elected officials have," Pottorff said. "It used to be people cared more about education, public education, than they do now ... It’s not the same atmosphere."
Pottorff’s retirement coincides with the announcement that her neighbor, Wichita Collegiate high school debate coach Rodney Wren, has filed to run for the 83rd District seat.
In the past two years, Wren has become prominent in free-market-conservative Republican politics, serving in 2010 as a speechwriter for Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita. Wren was selected to speak on behalf of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at this year’s Republican presidential caucus in Sedgwick County.
Despite the timing, Pottorff said her decision was unrelated to Wren’s decision to challenge in the Republican primary.
She said she decided two years ago that this would be her final term, although she waited to make the announcement because she didn’t want to serve as a lame duck.
She said she decided to announce her retirement now, before the end of the session, because "I don’t like people who go down to the last minute" before announcing they’re leaving.
"If there are other people who want to run for the 83rd District, this gives them the opportunity," she said.
The district is one of Wichita’s more upscale political venues. It runs from the College Hill neighborhood through the city of Eastborough and into affluent areas of east Wichita out to Webb Road.
"I have everything from Charles Koch to Jill Docking in the district," Pottorff said.