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

Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop, R-Wichita, declines to answer questions from reporters following a meeting Wednesday of Senate Republicans, referring them instead to a written statement. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

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.

Senate President Ty Masterson, R-Andover, kicks news reporters out of a meeting Wednesday of the Republican caucus. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

“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.