(Updated to include comments from the governor and attorney general)
Republican state Sen. Bud Estes of Dodge City, described as a lawmaker with a gentle heart, has passed away. He was 74.
Sources said Saturday morning that Estes died after a long illness that had kept him out of the Capitol this session. He died shortly after 2:30 Saturday morning.
“Our hearts are heavy today upon learning about the passing of our dear friend and colleague, Senator Bud Estes,” Senate President Ty Masterson said in a statement that later confirmed the lawmaker’s death.
“Bud has a kind and gentle spirit and was well respected by all who served with him in the legislature,” Masterson said.
“Known as the best dressed senator, he took great pride in his job as a senator and the work he was doing on behalf of his constituents.”
Gov. Laura Kelly ordered U.S. flags on the grounds of state buildings to be flown at half staff in Estes’ honor.
“I was deeply saddened to hear of Senator Estes’ passing,” Kelly said in a statement.
“Sen. Estes had a long history of serving the southwest Kansas community, his legacy will live on through his public service. I extend my deepest sympathies to his friends and family during their time of mourning.”
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schimidt also paid tribute to Estes.
“Bud Estes was a dedicated citizen-legislator, motivated to public service by the blessings of a lifetime, always proud to share the wonders of southwest Kansas with friends from around the state,” Schmidt said,
“The stars in the western Kansas sky will flicker a bit less brightly without Bud Estes to share them with us,” Schmidt said.
Republican Sen. Richard Hilderband of Galena also expressed his condolences on social media.
“Rest In Peace Senator Estes. Your kindness and friendship will be missed,” Hilderband tweeted.
Former chair of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, Estes had just completed his first term in the Senate and was elected to a second term last fall.
Estes had served in the Kansas House from 2013 to 2016 after he was initially appointed as a state represenative in 2013.
He previously served on the Ford County Planning Commission and the Bucklin City Council. He had been mayor of Bucklin for 14 years.
He graduated from Bucklin High School in 1964 and earned a bachelor’s in business from Fort Hays State University in 1968.
Republican precinct leaders have until March 6 to replace Estes in the Senate, which means the GOP will be down to 28 members in the Senate for now.
There are 96 precincts in Senate District 38, so there could be as many as 192 precinct leaders who could vote on his replacement.
The district covers a swath of Clark, Ford, Gray, Meade and Hodgeman counties.