Senator will fill position vacated after Estes’ election to US House

TOPEKA — State Sen. Jake LaTurner (R-Pittsburg) will soon be exchanging the title “Senator” for a new one — “State Treasurer.”

In a surprise announcement Tuesday morning, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback named LaTurner to the position vacated by Ron Estes, who recently won a special election for the seat in the U.S. House of Representatives vacated by Mike Pompeo after he was named CIA Director.

LaTurner’s appointment will be official effective April 25.

Crawford County Republican Party Chairwoman Marsha Wallace said the appointment was unexpected.

“This came as a bit of a surprise to most of us,” she said.

It came as a bit of a surprise to LaTurner, who has not net decided if he will move his family to Topeka, as well.

“We found out about this (Monday) afternoon, so that’s a discussion my wife and I certainly will be having,” LaTurner, 29, said in a phone interview Tuesday morning.

However, he said, he’s looking forward to getting to work.

“Public service is in my blood,” he said. “It’s something I’ve always been interested in and it’s an opportunity to serve Kansans statewide. I’m excited about the chance to continue serving.

He also said he plans to redouble efforts to help the disabled save and return unclaimed property to Kansans.

“The state treasurer's office administers a lot of important programs,” LaTurner said. “The able savings act which allows folks with disabilities to save for the future, the unclaimed property — the outgoing state treasurer (Ron Estes) has returned over $100 million in unclaimed property — I’m going to double down on those efforts.”

He said he’s also looking forward to administering the state’s college savings plan.

“For me, I grew up without a lot of money,” he said. “I had to take out student loans to pay for tuition at Pittsburg State University and so being able to be the administrator for the 529 College Savings Plan is something that I’m really excited about … to encourage Kansas families to save for their kids’ education. We know that education is the best way out of poverty.

In naming LaTurner, Brownback touted his work as a legislator during a Statehouse news conference Tuesday, pointing to his authorship in 2015 of a state law limiting the authority of cities and counties to spend additional property tax revenues without a public vote.

LaTurner has been active in Republican politics in southeast Kansas for at least a decade, serving as the GOP chairman in Cherokee County while still a college student. He formerly served on U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins' staff in the 2nd District of eastern Kansas and had been considered a potential candidate for her seat now that she's not seeking re-election.

LaTurner is chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, which handles hot-button social issues including abortion, gambling and gun rights. He's been a solid conservative ally of Brownback's in the Legislature, a strong abortion opponent and gun-rights backer.

He first ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 2008 at age 20 and unseated a less conservative incumbent in the GOP primary in 2012. He was re-elected last year with 56 percent of the vote, despite being targeted by Democrats, facing challenger Lynn Grant, the widow of long-time state Representative Bob Grant.

Brownback's appointment of LaTurner is not subject to state Senate confirmation. Republican Party officials in LaTurner's district will name his replacement, with a special election in 2018 to fill the last two years of LaTurner's current term.

Wallace said the party must wait 10 days before having a meeting to determine who LaTurner’s successor will be, and the process must be complete within 21 days from Tuesday.

Precinctmen from the district will make the choice which must then be submitted to Brownback for approval.

Wallace said she has already been in touch with the Republican Party chairs in other counties within the District. She said no decisions have yet been made on who might be nominated to fill the seat, but they are “just gathering possibilities.”

LaTurner said he plans to complete Estes’ unexpired term and then run for a full four-year term in 2018.

Editor’s Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.