Kansas Senate majority leader hands off duties a day after drunk driving arrest

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Originally published by Kansas Reflector on March 17, 2021:

TOPEKA — Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop said Wednesday he would transfer duties of his leadership position while resolving matters relating to his drunk driving arrest a day earlier.

Suellentrop was stopped by Kansas Highway Patrol officers early Tuesday after several 911 callers reported he was driving on the wrong side of Interstate 70 through Topeka. Officers booked him into jail on charges that included drunk driving and fleeing from police, but a judge ordered him released because of a problem with the arrest report.

Charges could still be filed against Suellentrop, a Republican from Wichita who has served in the Legislature since 2009. This is his first session as the majority leader.

His duties will fall to the assistant majority leader, Sen. Larry Alley, a Winfield Republican, for the immediate future.

“I regret that this incident has caused a distraction for my colleagues and the Senate staff, and most importantly, from the important issues we are debating on behalf of the people of Kansas,” Suellentrop said in a written statement. “It is essential that Senate leadership, our caucus, and the entire Senate be able to successfully complete the serious work that remains over the next few weeks.”

The statement was provided after a meeting of the Senate Republican caucus, which twice evicted news reporters to discuss Suellentrop behind closed doors. Sen. Rob Olson, R-Olathe, and Sen. Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha, could be seen through door windows standing and shouting.

“We had a couple of gentlemen who needed to express themselves,” said Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover.

Suellentrop sat in a corner of the room, removed from colleagues and his usual seat at the leadership table. He declined comment to reporters as he left the meeting.

Masterson issued a written statement praising Suellentrop for making the “prudent decision” to transfer leadership duties.

“It demonstrates respect for his colleagues and the Senate as an institution, as it will allow us to proceed forward without distraction nor delay as he handles the matters impacting him at the resent time,” Masterson said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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