Politics & Government

Susan Wagle, Senate president, rules out bid for Congress or governor

Senate President Susan Wagle will not run for either governor or Congress, she said Tuesday after she had openly considered both races.

"I’ve just decided that I need to keep my priorities with my family and running for office is a huge time commitment," Wagle, R-Wichita, said.

Her decision not to seek either office appears to clear away, at least for now, the threat of a primary challenger for U.S. Rep. Ron Estes, who was chosen earlier this year in a special election. No one else has publicly mulled a primary run.

It also means she will not join a growing field of Republican candidates for governor, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach seen as the most prominent contender so far. No women have announced bids for governor.

Wagle plans to serve out her Senate term and retain her position as Senate president. But, following tradition, she will not seek a third term as Senate president and will leave the Senate at the end of her current term.

In explaining her decision, Wagle referred to her past cancer and other cancer diagnoses within her family. Her daughter remains in twice-a-month treatment, she said.

Congress would have taken her away from Kansas and governor is an all-consuming job, she said.

"That’s a job that requires 100 percent time commitment, whether it’s a tornado or a problem in transportation or foster care or whatever – that’s a full-time job, a full-time commitment and it’s hard to break away for your family needs," Wagle said.

People close to Wagle first floated the possibility of a congressional run shortly after Estes’ relatively narrow victory in April. She said she was considering a run early this summer.

Estes won by 7 percentage points over Democrat James Thompson. It was the smallest margin of victory for a Republican in the district in more than a decade. Mike Pompeo won re-election to the seat by 30 points in November before leaving to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"As I watched the other races across the nation where someone left Congress, in most cases the candidates were vetted in a full primary race. And he was vetted within the party," Wagle said, referring to a party convention that nominated Estes.

"So, certainly he’ll have a full vetting this election cycle, I think, and it will be a totally different race for him."

Voters will have more time to get to know Estes and his goals, she said. She said she is not aware of anyone else considering a primary challenge of Estes.

On the governor side, Wagle said in June she was thinking of running. She said then that Kansans have a "desire for stability in state government and leadership."

Wagle and Gov. Sam Brownback have been in tension with each other at times. Wagle was critical of his decision not to cut spending in response to a budget shortfall last fall and instead allow lawmakers to make reductions.

On Tuesday, she did not want to endorse a candidate for governor but said she is confident she will support the eventual Republican nominee.

Wagle said she sees the Senate as providing stability over the next year as the governor’s race heats up and House members are up for re-election. Senators, who serve four-year terms, are not up for re-election until 2020.

"I have a Senate that’s not up for election and the founders wanted that stabilizing force during times of transition," Wagle said. "So I don’t think this is a bad place to be during transition."

Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said more-conservative candidates in the race for governor gain the most by her decision not to run. Wagle could have sought voters inclined to support Kobach and Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, he said, adding that he wonders whether her criticism of Brownback could have potentially appealed to more-moderate voters.

"If she had gotten in, she would have been someone with a consistently and very conservative voting record but someone who perhaps set herself apart from other conservatives by being somewhat critical of Gov. Brownback," Miller said.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3006, @jonshorman