BY TIM CARPENTER, The Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle took the plunge Wednesday by launching a Republican campaign for the U.S. Senate entrenched in conservative abortion, tax and health care roots formed during a nearly 30-year career in state legislative politics.
The Wichita cancer survivor and willing lightning rod for political controversy joined the field of candidates eager to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who declined to seek a fifth term. Wagle’s decision didn’t trigger the kind of intense bipartisan criticism that met Republican Kris Kobach’s recent entrance into the Senate contest.
“After talking to my family, listening to hardworking taxpayers all across Kansas, and after months of praying for guidance, I have decided to announce that I am officially a candidate to represent Kansas in the United States Senate,” Wagle said. “And just like I’ve always done, I will represent Kansas with honor, work tirelessly on Kansas’ behalf, and fight every day for our shared Kansas values.”
Vicki Hiatt, Kansas Democratic Party chairwoman, said it was hard to imagine Kansas voters delivering to Wagle a political promotion. Hiatt referenced Wagle’s allegiance to former Gov. Sam Brownback, who served from 2011 to 2018.
“Kansans have repeatedly made it clear they are sick of politicians putting petty partisanship and Brownback-style tax experiments ahead of working families,” Hiatt said.
Wagle, the first woman to serve as president of the Kansas Senate, has supported large business tax cuts, opposed abortion, fought Medicaid expansion, denounced Kansas Supreme Court opinions on education funding and modeled herself as a steady critic of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly.
In her campaign statement, Wagle said she would provide President Donald Trump with an ally from Kansas and work to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C.
Wagle, 65, filed the necessary paperwork Tuesday with the Federal Election Commission.
She was elected to the Kansas House in 1990 and has served in the Senate for the past 18 years. She was a 2006 nominee for lieutenant governor on the unsuccessful ticket with Republican Jim Barnett. Her peers selected her to be Senate president in 2012.
In addition to former Kansas Secretary of State Kobach, other Republicans in the U.S. Senate race are State Treasurer Jake LaTurner and former NFL player Dave Lindstrom. Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate include Barry Grissom, a former U.S. attorney for Kansas, and Nancy Boyda, a former U.S. House member from the 2nd District.
It is early for Senate candidates in Kansas to reveal intentions, given a filing deadline of June 2020. The Roberts seat, however, is so coveted that individuals lurched ahead to corner endorsements and contributions.
Bob Beatty, professor of political science at Washburn University in Topeka, said the timing was right for Wagle to step into the fray. It afforded her an opportunity to define herself before the expected entrance of U.S. Rep. Roger Marshall, of the 1st District.
“I do think it’s good for her to get in now,” Beatty said. “In the current climate, being a woman is a big advantage.”
Wagle opposed broadening eligibility for Medicaid to 130,000 low-income Kansans, but supported legislation authorizing the Kansas Farm Bureau to market health policies — not insurance — with benefits falling short of requirements under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The new state law won’t require Farm Bureau to cover pre-existing medical conditions, but premiums were expected to be lower.
“Socialized medicine, which leads to long waits, poor care, lack of choice and health care rationing, is never the answer,” Wagle said.
She took credit for exposing financial mismanagement at the Kansas Bioscience Authority, which was subsequently dissolved. She opposed federal policy developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency viewed as detrimental to agricultural interests. She touted her “A” rating from the National Rifle Association and championed Kansas’ “constitutional” concealed firearm law, which enabled people to carry hidden guns in public buildings without training or a license.
Wagle served in 2006 as national chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a political organization supported by Charles and David Koch.
In 2003, Wagle went on national television to ridicule as pornography the “Human Sexuality in Everyday Life” course at the University of Kansas. She sponsored legislation rescinding state financial support to university academic departments that permitted instructors to show “obscene” videos in class.
Wagle endorsed Kobach over Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary in August 2018. Kobach narrowly won that primary.
The most prominent possible GOP candidate yet to make a final decision would be U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who represented Kansas’ congressional district anchored by Wichita.
In a recent KCMO Radio interview, Pompeo said he wanted to remain secretary of state as long as Trump wanted him in that role. He also indicated he hadn’t ended deliberations about the Senate.
“I always leave open the possibility that something will change and my path in life will change too, but my mission set is really very clear,” Pompeo said.
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