Rep. Suellentrop files for Kansas Senate seat amid speculation Donovan will retire

Rep. Gene Suellentrop plans to seek the state Senate seat currently held by Sen. Les Donovan in west Wichita and Sedgwick County.

Donovan, R-Wichita, a 24-year veteran of the Legislature and current chairman of the Senate Assessment and Taxation Committee, is expected to retire at the end of the session. Senate District 27 extends from Wichita into Maize, Colwich and Andale.

“Senator Les Donovan, I think, is going to make a decision to not return,” Suellentrop said Tuesday. “It hasn’t been publicly acknowledged yet. I’m waiting for him to make that decision, but in doing so, I need to get out there and get started and tell people … what I think needs to be done for the state of Kansas.”

Suellentrop, a Wichita businessman who has served in the House since 2007, filed for the seat last week. He said he and Donovan talked about it before he filed.

Donovan was coy when asked Tuesday whether he planned to retire. “I have not made an announcement yet,” he said. Asked whether he had made a decision, he replied “Yes.”

Told that Suellentrop had already filed for the seat, Donovan joked: “That sneaky devil.”

Donovan has not filed for the seat. As tax committee chairman, he had the unenviable task of trying to persuade fellow GOP lawmakers to pass a tax increase last year. Multiple bills failed, and the session stretched to a record 114 days. Donovan repeatedly offered to resign his chairmanship and voiced his disgust with his colleagues, who he said were acting like children, as the session stretched on.

Suellentrop handed out cards announcing his Senate run at Saturday’s Sedgwick County Republican caucus at Century II.

“Saw a lot of familiar faces and received very encouraging support,” Suellentrop said.

He is not the only candidate for the seat.

Lori Graham, a 52-year-old computer programmer from Maize, filed for the GOP primary in January. Graham’s campaign website describes her as a “pro-life Constitutional Conservative” and says she’s running because she wants “our God-given country to shine again, and I want the State of Kansas to be a leader among states that talk straight and think straight.”

Republican sources expect Donovan to endorse Suellentrop.

Suellentrop, who has business holdings throughout the Midwest, has primarily focused on economic issues. “I still think there’s things we can do on the state level to attract jobs, create economic growth,” he said.

He sits on the House Appropriations and House Taxation committees and has played a key role in passing major legislation, quarterbacking a school finance bill that put more money into schools in the face of a Supreme Court order in 2014 and helping to craft a tax bill to plug the state’s budget hole.

Both of those issues will be at the center of the second half of this year’s session as the state looks to fill another budget hole and respond to another school finance ruling.

Suellentrop’s plan to pursue the Senate seat has already prompted a candidate to file for his seat in House District 95, which includes parts of Wichita, Maize, Park City and Valley Center.

Greg Lakin, a Wichita Republican, filed for the seat Tuesday and spent the day observing lawmakers.

Lakin, who is originally from eastern Colorado, has lived in Wichita for 18 years and is a family physician.

“I think I have some ideas and some perspectives maybe that other people don’t. Just from being on the front line treating addicts, treating uninsured and being conscious of the money that it takes to do that,” Lakin said.

Asked whether he would support Medicaid expansion, Lakin said he needs to study the issue further before he decides. “I don’t have all the information,” he said.

Bryan Lowry: 785-296-3006, @BryanLowry3