One of the most conservative members of the Kansas Senate said Monday he plans to retire from the chamber in the next few days.
But his retirement announcement was spoiled by a former Republican rival, who announced the departure instead of the senator.
Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Leavenworth Republican, said he was preparing to resign when he was told that Steve Watkins, who topped Fitzgerald in a primary for the 2nd congressional district, had sent out a press release congratulating the longtime conservative on retiring.
“I don’t know where the hell he got that,” Fitzgerald said. “...How the hell did he find out?”
Fitzgerald, 73, added that “I really don’t appreciate (Watkins) being my press agent.”
The primary was heated between Watkins and the more established candidates in the race, symbolized by Fitzgerald’s campaign putting out a statement prior to the primary with the headline “Fitzgerald denounces Liberal Republican Watkins.”
But Fitzgerald is indeed retiring and he said the move will become official at some point in the next few days.
“To tell you the truth, it’s because we need to have somebody in there who’s going to be able to hold the seat past 2020,” Fitzgerald said. “And the sooner they get in, the better.”
Fitzgerald has served in the Senate since 2013 and became known as a conservative lightning rod, one who compared Planned Parenthood to the Nazi concentration camp Dachau and further stoked controversy when he said earlier this year that “Outside Western civilization, there is only barbarism.”
“Steve Fitzgerald spent his state senate career spewing hateful rhetoric instead of advocating for his constituents,” Rachel Sweet, regional director of public policy and organizing for Planned Parenthood Great Plains Votes, said in an email. ”Kansans deserve better. We need politicians who will work to move the state forward—not divide and denigrate us.”
Senate President Susan Wagle, a conservative Republican from Wichita, said in a statement that Fitzgerald will be missed.
“Steve Fitzgerald is a shining example of what it means to be a public servant,” Wagle said. “He has dedicated his career to helping others whether it be in the military or on the floor of the Kansas Senate.”
Fitzgerald, an Army veteran, has belonged to the conservative wing of the party that resisted the repeal of former Gov. Sam Brownback’s tax cuts and attempts to expand Medicaid in Kansas.
In August, Fitzgerald finished fourth in his attempt to become the Republican nominee in the second district. Watkins finished first with more than 26 percent of the vote.
“In the Army, it’s up or out, you get promoted or you get out,” Fitzgerald said. “I didn’t get promoted, so it must be time to get out.”