In a surprise announcement this morning, State Rep. John Solbach, D-Lawrence, said he was retiring from the Kansas Legislature after 14 years to devote more time to his family and his law practice.
Solbach, 45, who was first elected in 1978, said he would not seek re-election to the Kansas House 45th District seat, which covers western Douglas County and several precincts in Lawrence.
"I think I've given my community and state very good service over the 14 years," Solbach said. "It's been a marvelous experience. Most of the rewards have been intangible rewards.
"It requires personal, financial and professional sacrifices, which I have made willingly. I think I've given the service that I've got to give and now I want to let someone else have a term."
Solbach is the second longtime Lawrence legislator to announce retirement this year. Sen. Wint Winter Jr., a Republican who served in the Senate for 10 years, announced April 30 he would not run again.
SOLBACH'S reason for leaving the Legislature was the same as Winter's legislative service was taking too much time away from his family and his law practice.
"It's been more difficult to serve in the last six years, principally because of family obligations, and those family obligations have an impact on those other things that one does in life," he said.
Solbach and his wife, Pat, have two sons, John Matthias, 6, and Bart, 5.
"Serving in the Legislature puts things at risk," Solbach said. "It puts marriages at risk. It puts parenting at risk. It puts your profession at risk."
He said his younger brother's death from a heart attack on April 2 had a strong influence on his decision.
"I remember thinking how terribly important the legislation I was working on was and it appeared that it was the most important thing in the world," he said. "Then I found out my brother had died and he had left two teen-age boys without a father. It made me realize what was really important."
BECAUSE Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, has decided to run for the seat Winter is vacating, Solbach's decision will mean Lawrence will have at least two new House members next year.
Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, who has served since 1980, said she plans to announce whether she will run again later this week. Charlton could not be reached this morning to see if Solbach's retirement has any effect on her plans.
Solbach's decision to retire has led Democrat Forrest Swall, a Kansas University professor of social welfare, to change his plans from seeking Winter's Senate seat to seeking the 45th District seat. Swall said he would file for the seat early next week. The filing deadline is noon Wednesday.
Two Republicans have filed for the 45th District seat and will square off in an Aug. 4 primary: Martha Parker, a rural Clinton woman who has run for the position twice, and Bob Skahan, a Lawrence businessman.
SOLBACH has been chairman of the House Judiciary Committee for the last two years and was ranking minority member of that committee for the last eight years. He also served on the House Appropriations Committee for 10 year.
Solbach said that during the last year, the judiciary panel worked on about 80 pieces of legislation that became law, including child-support legislation, a new sentencing reform bill and a bill that increases penalties for drive-by shootings.
He said this year the Legislature made significant cuts in property taxes for most homeowners and businesses and worked to shift the tax burden off homeowners and businesses.
"We've completely reformed the educational system to provide for equality of educational opportunity," he said. "We passed a complete recodification of the criminal code. We passed a 300-page sentencing reform bill, which gives the governor and the Legislature a tool to more effectively manage our resources."
HOUSE Speaker Marvin Barkis, D-Louisburg, said he was sorry to see Solbach leave office.
"He's been a very outstanding legislator and the people in his district have been well served over the last 14 years," Barkis said. "I never enjoy hearing that someone in that quality will be leaving the Legislature. I think he is one of the most outstanding people you would meet in your life. But I understand his decision. In the '90s, being a politician is not very fun."
Del Shankel, KU's executive vice chancellor said "I am sorry to learn of his decsion to retire. He has been a very good representative for Douglas County and all of his constituents. He has represented our interests well and he has been a pleasure to work with. I'm sure the Kansas Legislature will miss his leadership."