With the Senate drunk on its own power, all of Kansas might need a recovery support group

April 9, 2021 3:33 am

If he wants guidance on the dangers of over-consuming alcohol, Kansas Senate Majority Leader Gene Suellentrop (center) could turn to his fellow Republican Sen. Virgil Peck, far right. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

A lot of people have advice right now for the majority leader of the Kansas Senate, who has reportedly been belligerent about facing consequences for “going the wrong way.”

Sen. Gene Suellentrop, a Republican from Wichita, has been charged with a felony for fleeing a police officer, as well as with misdemeanors for driving under the influence and reckless driving, and traffic infractions for driving the wrong way on a divided highway and speeding.

The details of Suellentrop’s behavior after being stopped by Kansas Highway Patrol Officer Austin Shepley on the day before St. Patrick’s Day are, let’s just say, not exemplary of great leadership.

Some people are advising Suellentrop to resign.


My advice is for Suellentrop to walk across the floor and have a talk with the Senate pillar of virtue, Virgil Peck.

Suellentrop might already have heard this advice back in early March, when senators were discussing a bill that would allow places like the American Legion Hall to get permits to sell alcohol during events at their banquet halls.

Then again, the senate majority leader might have tuned out his fellow Republican. Denial can be a powerful thing, so I’ll recap some of it here.

“My dad’s always had a saying that some people have something to say. Other people just have to say something. It will be determined when I’m finished here exactly where I fall in that category,” Peck said (this was a few weeks before Peck gave an infamy earning speech on a different topic).

Since this was the first of many alcohol-related bills they’d consider this session, the Republican from Havana said, he wanted to “spend a few moments and help my colleagues understand who I am and where I stand on alcohol-related issues.”

What followed was almost 10 minutes of Peck family history, beginning with a reminder that alcohol is a controlled substance and then a lengthy clarification that Peck certainly had nothing against veterans or members of the American Legion.

Finally he got to his point, which was that alcohol consumption has destroyed many lives throughout history.

“Marriages have been destroyed. Relationships have been destroyed. People have lost jobs and children have been abused because someone over-consumed alcohol. Auto accidents have happened because of alcohol,” Peck said.

His next words now feel prophetic.

“Even legislators have faced issues with alcohol,” Peck said. “And some legislative careers have been destroyed because of over consumption of alcohol. Over consumption has caused many persons to conduct themselves in ways they normally would not have done.”

Then he went back to sounding more like a normal Kansas Republican.

“We know that there are individuals who have engaged in sexual activity they would not have engaged in had they not over consumed alcohol. That means that there have been some abortions performed because someone over consumed alcohol,” he said.

This peak Peck performance detoured into methamphetamine use before it got personal.

“Alcohol destroyed my favorite uncle on my mom’s side,” he said of an uncle who died of cirrhosis of the liver.

And for nearly 20 years, he said, alcohol also destroyed his little brother.

“With God’s grace and God’s help and his mercy, my brother now has been alcohol free for nearly 20 years. But for a period of time, he was controlled by alcohol. He is still considered an alcoholic,” Peck said, before revealing that his brother participates in a certain support group where people are supposed to enjoy anonymity.

We heard more about Peck’s brother than we were really supposed to hear. But maybe that was Senate Majority Leader Suellentrop’s higher power speaking to him through his colleague in a cringe-worthy public way. So in case Suellentrop might have dozed off for some reason, here’s Peck’s speech again:

It’s no secret that the first step in recovery is admitting one has a problem. We’ll see whether the Kansas senate majority leader will take responsibility for his actions in this way.

Until then, one of my fellow Capitol watchers, Davis Hammet, summed up the whole sordid Suellentrop situation better than anyone:

I’ll expand on Hammet’s metaphor only to add that maybe this is what happens in a legislative body that seems obsessed with repression and extremes.

Sen. Suellentrop, meet Sen. Peck.

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C.J. Janovy
C.J. Janovy

C.J. Janovy is a veteran journalist with deep roots in the Midwest. She was the Opinion Editor for the Kansas Reflector from launch unit l June 2021. Before joining the Reflector, she was an editor and reporter at Kansas City’s NPR affiliate, KCUR. Before that, she edited the city’s alt-weekly newspaper, The Pitch, where Janovy and her writers won numerous local, regional and national awards. Her book “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas” was among the Kansas Notable Books of 2019.