Senate Republicans on Friday voted out state Sen. Gene Suellentrop as their majority leader, ending an abbreviated period as one of the most influential players at the state Capitol.
GOP senators voted 22-4 to remove Suellentrop from his post less than a day after details of his drunk-driving arrest emerged, notably challenging the arresting officer to a fight and calling him “donut boy.”
A new majority leader will not be voted on until sine die. Sen. Larry Alley of Winfield will continue to serve as the acting majority leader through the veto session.
“It’s kind of a sad day,” said Senate President Ty Masterson.
Masterson said he personally asked Suellentrop to resign from the leadership position.
He expressed disappointment that his fellow senator was removed from the post instead of stepping down on his own volition.
“These are just heavy issues,” he said. “We become friends with people in these chambers on both sides of the aisle. We build relationships in this chamber.”
Masterson said he and Suellentrop remain friends.
Earlier in the day, Republican Sen. Rick Kloos of Berryton asked the Senate Republican caucus to a vote on whether Suellentrop should keep his leadership position.
Kloos said he was willing to wait due process out in this case, but action became necessary when it was revealed Thursday that the senator’s blood-alcohol level the night of the arrest was twice the legal level.
“Due process was what we were looking at and yesterday was the deciding factor,” Kloos said. “When the blood-acohol level tests came back that was when we decided we needed to step forward”
Kloos along with Republican Sens. Brenda Dietrich and Kristen O’Shea met with reporters after the GOP caucus vote early Friday night.
All three are from Shawnee County where Suellentrop was arrested.
“We are the Republican Party and so we have high standards for the values we should hold,” O’Shea said.
“As a party tonight we showed that we’re holding accountability to that and it’s not OK,” O’Shea said.
As majority leader, Suellentrop serves on the Legislative Coordinating Council and the State Finance Council.
Suellentrop’s seats on those committees will remain vacant until a new majority leader is selected.
Meanwhile, Suellentrop’s staff – Chief of Staff Eric Rucker and Policy Director Kathy Sachs – will continue to serve the office and the assistant majority leader.
Presssure had already been building on Suellentrop to step down from his position for several weeks, but heightened after the new details about the senator’s arrest in the early morning of March 16 emerged on Thursday.
Police records made public on Thursday revealed that Suellentrop had a blood-alcohol level of 0.17 – more than twice the legal limit – when he was stopped driving in the wrong lane on Interstate 70 at speeds of more than 90 mph near downtown Topeka.
A probable cause affidavit revealed that Suellentrop smelled of alcohol, struggled with his balance, refused to provide a breath sample and showed signs of aggresiveness toward the arresting officer.
The 69-year-old state senator at one point referred to the officer as “donut boy” and said he could “take” him based on his background as a high school athlete.
Suellentrop has been charged with driving under the influence, attempting to elude police, reckless driving, speeding and driving the wrong direction on a divided highway.
Eluding police is a felony, while the DUI and reckless driving charges are misdemeanors.
The felony charge presents the most serious threat to Suellentrop’s political career, which started in 2009 as a member of the Kansas House.
The state constitution requires a legislator to be a “qualified elector.”
If Suellentrop is convicted of a felony, he would lose his right to vote and would no longer be a qualified elector and would lose his seat in the Senate.