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Two days in jail? Gene Suellentrop should resign from Kansas Senate after DUI deal

·2 min read

Kansas state Sen. Gene Suellentrop’s plea bargain Monday on drunk driving and other charges is a grotesque distortion of justice.

Suellentrop should resign from the Kansas Senate. If he had any common sense, or shame, he would do so. He has neither, so no, that’s not happening.

In March, the Kansas Highway Patrol tried to stop Suellentrop as he drove down the wrong side of Interstate 70 shortly after midnight. Officers pursued Suellentrop for 10 minutes, at speeds nearing 100 miles an hour.

Court documents later claimed Suellentrop’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. The Republican had “watery” and “droopy” eyes, officers said later, and slurred his speech.

He refused a breath test, and challenged officers — calling one “doughnut boy.” He suggested a fistfight. He ended up in jail.

Eventually, Suellentrop was charged with several misdemeanors, and a felony for “fleeing and eluding law enforcement.” Monday, he had his day in court.

There, Suellentrop pleaded no contest to a Class B DUI misdemeanor and reckless driving. A nine-month jail sentence was suspended: He’ll spend just two days in jail, pay a small fine, and serve a year on probation.

The felony charge was dropped.

The deal seems extraordinarily generous. Suellentrop’s drunken antics threatened lives that night. His plea deal and light sentence weakens the deterrent effect of state drunk driving laws.

It also makes police work more dangerous. Is it a crime to evade police on a highway? In Suellentrop’s case — and, potentially, others — it is not.

The resolution of the case is deeply disappointing on its own terms. But it is beyond outrageous because Suellentrop isn’t just any citizen — he’s a state senator. Had he been convicted of the felony, he would have had to resign his position of public trust.

Dropping the felony charge turns the punishment into a meaningless slap on the wrist. Absent a resignation, or expulsion, Suellentrop will be back at work in January, voting on laws that apply to every Kansan, except perhaps Gene Suellentrop.

It’s an unmistakable stain on the state Senate. It will add to the cynicism of Kansans, who will believe the laws apply to them, but not to Important People. It may encourage additional lawlessness.

Senate Republicans removed Suellentrop, a Wichita Republican, from his leadership position earlier this year, when the charges were pending. They should now encourage him to resign, for the good of the party and the Legislature.

“There are many lessons to be learned from circumstances such as these,” Suellentrop said in court. “I can assure you I’ve learned my share.”

Obviously, that’s not true. If he continues to serve, Suellentrop will have shown he has learned nothing from this dangerous debacle. Kansans, on the other hand, will have learned plenty: that a drunk driver can serve in high office, and escape any significant punishment for his behavior.

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