Politics & Government

Kansas Treasurer LaTurner enters race to replace retiring Roberts in U.S. Senate

Jake LaTurner, Kansas state treasurer, addresses supporters at the Republican candidate watch party at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.
Jake LaTurner, Kansas state treasurer, addresses supporters at the Republican candidate watch party at the Capitol Plaza Hotel in Topeka Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. jtoyoshiba@kcstar.com

Republican Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner, one of the youngest statewide elected officials in the country, is entering the race to replace Pat Roberts in the U.S. Senate.

LaTurner’s announcement Tuesday comes less than a week after Roberts, 82, said he will retire at the end of his fourth term in 2020. He is the first person to enter the race, although many big names in Kansas politics are considering it.

“I’m running because I think Kansas wants a conservative fighter in the United States Senate,” LaTurner said. “That’s what I’ve done my whole career, whether I was in the state Senate or serving as the treasurer for the last year and a half, and that’s what I’ll do in the United States Senate.”

At 30, LaTurner is at the Constitutional minimum age of eligibility to run for the Senate. He will turn 31 next month.

If elected, he would most likely be the chamber’s youngest member. The current youngest senator is Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri, who is 39.

LaTurner said he views his age as an advantage.

“When you see a conservative in a race that represents a new generation of leadership, they’ve done really, really well. I think that we will, too,” he said, referring in part to Hawley, who was elected in November.

LaTurner got his start in politics working as a staffer for former U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who he counts as a mentor.

After a term in the state senate, LaTurner was appointed treasurer in 2017 and elected to the post in November. In Kansas, the position is relatively low-profile, non-controversial.

Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, said LaTurner is trying to move quickly from office to office.

“He’s very ambitious. I would say ambitious to a fault,” Hensley said.

Kansas GOP chair Kelly Arnold said LaTurner’s youth would be an asset in the race, but he also said the young candidate would face challenges in the crowded field.

“Jake LaTurner brings new energy to the Republican Party ... He will be able to appeal to a lot of people, but he will have top tier competition in this race. And so he will be tested on his ability to raise money and build a coalition,” said Arnold, who will step down as party chairman in February.

The race is a relatively low-risk venture for LaTurner. If he doesn’t win, he can still run for re-election as treasurer in 2022.

In announcing his candidacy, LaTurner signed a “Contract with Kansas” that emphasizes fiscal responsibility and national security, including construction of a border wall. The contract also calls for term limits and the state’s continued representation on the Senate Agricultural Committee.

Asked about his agricultural credentials, LaTurner said he had worked in the state Senate to limit property tax increases, helping farmers.

LaTurner, who is from Pittsburg, also promises to “live and raise” his family in Kansas. During his 2014 race, critics charged Roberts didn’t truly live in Kansas.

His campaign will be co-chaired by Dave Murfin and Ivan Crossland. Murfin is CEO of the Wichita oil and construction company Murfin, Inc., and is a member of the state Board of Regents, which governs public universities. Both are members of the Kansas Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Roberts on Friday announced his decision to retire, immediately setting off speculation over who will get in the race. The list of Republicans considering a run is lengthy.

Outgoing Gov. Jeff Colyer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, outgoing Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Senate President Susan Wagle and Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union, are among those considering campaigns.

On the Democratic side, former U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom and former congressional candidate James Thompson are weighing the race.

Bryan Lowry of McClatchy’s DC Bureau contributed to this report.

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.