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Garrett Love Not Done With Politics

KSCB News - August 9, 2016 12:41 pm

A member of the Kansas Senate who is not seeking re-election quietly joined Senate President Susan Wagle’s staff last month and will earn $40,000 through December.

Sen. Garrett Love, R-Montezuma, announced toward the end of this past session that he would not be seeking re-election so that he could focus on his family. He and his wife are expecting their second child this year.

Shortly after the Legislature concluded its special session, the 28-year-old lawmaker took a position as Wagle’s legislative director in early July.

Reached by phone Monday, Love said he would primarily be working from western Kansas rather than in Topeka with the rest of Wagle’s staff.

“Susan had brought up the idea of me assisting her and the caucus and being able to do that through the rest of this year,” Love said, explaining that he does not plan to continue in the role next legislative session if Wagle returns to her position as Senate president.

Wagle’s communications director, Paje Resner, sent a lengthy e-mail about Love’s hiring Tuesday, saying that there is “no potential conflict of interest in this role.”

“With Garrett retiring from the Senate at the end of his term and the Senate recessed for the year, he will have no further opportunity to vote on any legislation or policy matter,” Resner said. “Additionally, in the unlikely event of a special session, Garrett will resign his employment in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.”

The position appears highly focused on campaign work, based on e-mail from Harrison Hems, Wagle’s chief of staff.

Hems said Wagle hired Love “because a lot of our open seats are in rural parts of the state” and he “has a unique understanding of those areas.”

Most state employees are barred from doing campaign work on taxpayer time, but an exception of Kansas ethics law allows the personal staff of elected officials, including Love, to do campaign work on taxpayer time.

It’s in the interest of Wagle, who is seeking another term as Senate president, to help elect as many Republicans to the Senate as possible this fall.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, called Love’s hiring while he remains in office “highly unusual.”

Hensley, whose own staff often does work on behalf of Democratic candidates, drew a distinction because Love remains the sitting senator for the 38th Senate District in western Kansas.

“The taxpayers are paying an elected official for campaigning, basically,” Hensley said. “I think that, to me, is different than staff people, who work for an elected official, being able to use their state time to campaign. I think there’s a distinct difference there.”

Resner said that Love would continue to perform his senatorial duties and clarified that he would continue to receive his salary as a senator.

“Like most legislators, Garrett has a full-time job in addition to his service in the Senate. In Garrett’s case, his full-time job is working for President Wagle,” Resner said. “Like all Senators who hold full-time positions outside the Capitol, Garrett continues to be responsive to constituent service requests and other Senatorial duties related to his district.”

She said Love “continues to collect the nominal pay all Senators receive out of session — including those Senators with full time jobs — in addition to his salary from his full-time job,” but that he would not be reimbursed for any travel expenses that he incurs while working for Wagle or while performing his senatorial duties.

Love said his job has a broad scope, which includes “advising the Senate president with rural issues, agricultural issues, rural elections and then also helping with communications … helping both candidates and potential newly elected officials.”

He said his salary will be $40,000 over a six-month period.

Love acknowledged that “it’s pretty unique” for a sitting lawmaker to join the staff of another lawmaker but that “when it all got brought up, they talked to legal, talked to staff and all that.”

Love served one term in the Senate after a two-year stint in the House. Rep. Bud Estes, R-Dodge City, and Democrat Miguel Angel Rodriguez will square off in November for the Senate seat held by Love

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