Jennings announces plan not to seek reelection

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Republican state Rep. Russ Jennings, one of the last leading moderates in the Kansas House, announced Thursday morning that he would not run for reelection.

Now in his fifth term in the House, Jennings, 66, revealed he would not run again because of an advanced cancer diagnosis.

In a newsletter that went out to constituents, Jennings said he would soon begin a treatment protocol to fight the illness.

“I intend to focus on my treatment, my family and living my life as productively as possible one day at a time,” he wrote.

“I would appreciate people honoring my privacy and that of my wife, Judy and our children.

“This news has taken quite a toll on all of them and they need your support and kindness every bit as much as I do.”

“Please say a prayer for me and my family, that we might have the strength needed for this journey, that the path be clear and that the burden be lightened from their aching hearts.

“God’s mercy knows no bounds and I trust God will be with us on this difficult journey,” he said.

Jennings’ departure further reduces the influence of moderates in the House, where he was generally considered one of the leaders of the party’s centrist wing.

The numbers in the moderate faction of the party have been declining in recent years, dropping from the mid-30s in the House several years ago to about the low 20s currently.

He unsuccessfully ran for speaker against Ron Ryckman Jr. in 2016 and still kept a leadership position as chair of the corrections committee.

His departure will leave moderates without the same kind of influential leader after 2022, further empowering conservatives’ hold on the chamber.

“He has accumulated a level of stature, a level of respect that only comes with not only time but with success in the legislative arena and that won’t be easily replaced,” said former House Majority Leader Don Hineman in response to the announcement.

He called Jennings a “very important component” of the legislative process in the House.

“The role that he plays, the strategies that he is able to employ at times, it would be difficult for anyone else to assume that role,” Hineman said.

Hineman pointed out that the Jennings’ background in criminal justice was well regarded in the statehouse, something that Ryckman Jr. praised on Thursday morning.

“Our prayers are with Russ and his family as they begin the treatment process” Ryckman said.

“All of us seek to make a meaningful difference in our legislative service, and Russ has done just that,” he said in a text.

“His law enforcement experience has helped strengthen our state’s corrections system and rehabilitate juvenile offenders.

“It’s a record of public service that he should be proud of, and that I know he’ll continue to influence even in retirement.”

Jennings brought more than three decades of experience in criminal and juvenile justice to the Legislature.

The Lakin lawmaker had served as a deputy sheriff in Kearny County, director of the Southwest Kansas Regional Juvenile Detention Center, a district magistrate judge and as a member of Kansas Juvenile Justice Authority.

Jennings has also served on various community and professional boards including the  Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, Sex Offender Policy Board, and the Substance Abuse Policy Board.

Jennings represents House District 122, which covers a swath of southwest Kansas including parts of Greeley, Hamilton, Kearny, Finney, Grant and Haskell counties.

The district is heavily Republican with 74% of voters going for President Donald Trump last year and 71% going for Republican Roger Marshall in the U.S. Senate race.