TOPEKA – Three of the state’s top elected officials have ruled that Wichita debate teacher Rodney Wren can run for the state House seat being vacated by Rep. Jo Ann Pottorff, rejecting a residency complaint that Wren labeled a smear tactic.
The panel, consisting of Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Lieutenant Gov. Jeff Colyer and Attorney General Derek Schmidt, dismissed the objection to Wren’s candidacy and determined that by living with his fiancee he has established a legal home in the 83rd House District, where he has filed to run.
Wren said he has lived with his fiancee, Holly Murtha, at her home since July 2.
“What you have here before you today is a personal attack, a vendetta and an attempt to smear my campaign,” Wren told the panel. “That’s all it is.”
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The complaint about Wren’s residency was filed by his fiancee’s former sister-in-law, Eileen Murtha.
Wren’s former campaign treasurer, Timmy Garvey, spoke on behalf of Eileen Murtha, who could not attend the meeting in person or by phone.
Garvey told the state panel that he quit the campaign when he found out Wren does not live at the address in the 6300 block of East 8th Street where he registered to vote in February.
He alleged that Wren actually lives in an apartment in the 9000 block of East Lincoln Street, which is outside of the 83rd district. Garvey said he had seen Wren staying overnight at the apartment as recently as Monday night.
Wren said there are “personal issues that surround this situation” and at one point asked that the hearing be conducted in a closed session, which the panel did not do.
“I have no desire to air or talk about personal issues regarding my relationship with my fiancee, Holly Murtha, and the problems that she and we have had with her late husband’s family,” Wren said.
“The sad thing is now a campaign has been smeared by a disgruntled family, because Holly Murtha is in a relationship and they don’t like it,” Wren said.
Wren hopes to succeed Pottorff, the longest-serving woman in the Legislature, who recently announced her retirement after 27 years in office.
In ruling in Wren’s favor, Attorney General Schmidt said: “It does appear to me … that the balance of evidence presented to this board would be in Mr. Wren’s favor, much less the objector having shown clearly Mr. Wren’s assertion of residency is erroneous.”
Wren is the debate and forensics coach at Wichita Collegiate high school.
He has recently been active in conservative Republican politics as a speechwriter for Rep. Mike Pompeo. Wren was a representative for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign and spoke on Gingrich’s behalf at the Sedgwick County presidential caucus.
Holly Murtha’s sister, Yvonne, said she babysits Holly Murtha’s son and goes to her house several times a week.
She said she was there less than a week ago and that the house showed no signs of Wren living there.
Wren said Yvonne Murtha’s comments were not true.
“I’ve been there, I’ve been in bed when they came over,” he said. “My stuff is there.”
Wren acknowledged that he holds a lease on the apartment on Lincoln, but said he doesn’t live there anymore.
He said he didn’t want to break the lease because it would damage his credit. He’s using it as an office until the contract expires, he said.
“This hearing has sadly devolved into something that resembles a smear tactic,” he said. “It’s not right, it’s not fair, the people of the 83rd District deserve better. And I am just absolutely appalled that this is where we are today.”