Kansas Senate president: Suellentrop should ‘vacate’ leadership post over DUI arrest

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Katie Bernard
·3 min read
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Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson said Friday that Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop should lose his powerful leadership position — a departure from his past calls to let the court process play out.

Masterson’s new tone came the day after new court records detailed alleged aggressive and insulting behavior by Suellentrop toward a Capitol Police officer who arrested him last month for fleeing police while driving on the wrong side of interstate highways near Topeka.

“I think it’s clear that the majority leader needs to vacate the leadership office,” Masterson told reporters Friday morning.

Masterson had previously withheld public judgment, citing Suellentrop’s right to due process. But his new position came after Sen. Rick Kloos, a freshman Republican from Topeka, asked the GOP caucus to hold a closed-door meeting Friday afternoon to vote on Suellentrop’s continued leadership position.

Kloos said the request came with a “heavy heart.”

“We’ve all been patient, and with the new revelations yesterday I just felt it was time,” Kloos said. “I don’t care when the vote is, just today.”

Masterson agreed to hold the meeting but said a vote would be scheduled at that time and held in an open forum.

‘Clockwise from the far left, Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita; Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover; Chase Blasi, Masterson’s operations chief, and Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, conferring in Topeka in early March.
‘Clockwise from the far left, Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita; Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover; Chase Blasi, Masterson’s operations chief, and Sen. Mike Thompson, R-Shawnee, conferring in Topeka in early March.

Suellentrop, who is facing felony and misdemeanor charges, left the Kansas Statehouse on Thursday after the release of new documents in his court case.

He was expected to return Friday to cast a potentially decisive vote on a major education bill that ties school funding to expansions of school choice measures and restrictions on remote learning.

Thursday night, the Senate reached a 20-18 stalemate on the measure, one vote short of the 21 needed to pass. At the time of the vote, Suellentrop had gone back home to Wichita. The Senate planned to reconsider on Friday.

Despite the tenuous nature of Suellentrop’s leadership position and controversy surrounding him, Masterson said Thursday night it was appropriate for him to return for the vote.

“He made a foolish mistake and he’s gonna pay some severe consequences, but he still represents the people of that district,” Masterson said.

An affidavit released Thursday alleged Suellentrop threatened to fight an officer and called him “donut boy.” His blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit following his arrest March 16.

He’s accused of driving the wrong way on Topeka highways at high speeds for at least 10 minutes while intoxicated, leading police on a five minute pursuit.

Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop leaves a meeting with Republican lawmakers after making a statement behind closed doors. When asked for further comment, he declined and referred to his written statement.
Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop leaves a meeting with Republican lawmakers after making a statement behind closed doors. When asked for further comment, he declined and referred to his written statement.

The day after the arrest, Suellentrop, 69, said he was turning over the bulk of his formal duties to Assistant Majority Leader Larry Alley. But at least one Republican senator, Dennis Pyle of Hiawatha, said last month that Suellentrop was still playing a leadership role in the chamber.

Last week, Masterson bought Suellentrop out of the property they co-owned in downtown Topeka, terminating their relatively young business partnership.

Suellentrop stands to financially benefit each day he retains the title of majority leader. He will earn at least $1,948 if he holds on to the position until his first court date June 3.

He also remains on the Legislature’s internal governing body, called the Legislative Coordinating Council, and the State Finance Council. Both councils have played significant roles during the pandemic, including reviewing Gov. Laura Kelly’s executive orders.

Suellentrop’s only public comments on his arrest came last month after he addressed a closed-door gathering of GOP senators. In a statement at the time, he didn’t directly address the allegations, but said only that he regretted that “this incident” had caused a distraction for his fellow senators and staff and “from the important issues we are debating on behalf of the people of Kansas.”

The Star’s Jonathan Shorman contributed to this report.