Rep. Tom Sloan, a Douglas County Republican who has served in the Kansas Legislature for the past 24 years, will not seek re-election.
In a statement released Sunday night, Sloan said he was ready to retire and spend more time with his wife and family.
“Serving in the legislature has been the best job I’ve ever had, as I have been able to help people and grow as an individual,” Sloan said in the statement. “December will mark the end of my 24th year of legislative service, and it is time that Gail and I spent more time together with family and doing the things for which there was no time.”
Sloan, 72, has been active on the issues of energy, telecommunications, water policy, higher education and other topics. His district covers northwest and far-west Lawrence, north and west rural Douglas County and Lecompton.
When asked by the Journal-World about the reason for his announcement, Sloan on Monday said it was partly the 2016 elections — in which voters ousted many of the Legislature’s conservative incumbent Republicans in favor of more moderate Republican challengers — that allowed him to feel comfortable with the decision to step aside.
“In 2016, voters across the state made some major changes in the Legislature’s composition, so we were able to change the income tax laws that had badly hurt our state’s ability to invest in education and highways and mental health programs and other essential services,” Sloan said. “I’m hopeful that the voters in 2018 will continue that trend and again elect a strong majority of candidates from both parties that are invested in the long-term interests of our state.”
Sloan said that, “unlike a lot of Republicans in Congress and the Kansas Legislature,” he feels confident that he would have been re-elected in 2018.
The retirement news came as a surprise to Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat representing the 46th District. Highberger said he’d had “no indication” that Sloan would be leaving the Statehouse when his term expires early next year.
“He’ll be missed, for sure,” Highberger said of his colleague of more than 10 years. “He definitely has expertise on a number of issues, but I think the people in that district have elected good people in the past. I think they’ll elect a good person next time.”
Highberger said Sloan was known in the Statehouse as being knowledgeable and easy to work with and could often be seen “making the rounds” in his district during election cycles. For Sloan, this meant hitting the streets and talking with constituents, “getting to know them,” he said.
“He’s sacrificed for a long time, and he deserves a break,” Highberger added.
Rep. Barbara Ballard, a Lawrence Democrat representing the 44th District, said she was “shocked” by the news of Sloan’s retirement. Ballard said she’d had “no idea” that he was considering the move.
“He has effectively represented Lawrence in the Legislature, and our Lawrence delegation is very effective, and we work well together,” Ballard said. “So, we will miss him. I know I will miss Tom and I’ve enjoyed working with him.”
In his statement, Sloan said he’d like to see high interest in his House seat.
“I hope that a large number of well-qualified candidates will file for the seat and give the voters the opportunity to select a knowledgeable, mature, responsible, responsive and visionary successor,” he said.
He also told the Journal-World that he would gladly answer questions about the election process and legislative responsibilities if any prospective candidates were to contact him.
In his remaining months in office, Sloan said he planned to continue working on some of his long-term goals, including the protection of drinking water in eastern Kansas, the expansion of renewable resources such as wind and solar power, and pushing for rural broadband incentives that he feels could “make a difference across the country.” Aside from spending more time with family and at the ballpark, he said he didn’t have any sort of post-Statehouse encore in mind.
Sloan has worked in academia, as an assistant professor at Kansas State University, and also served in executive leadership roles for the Getty Oil Company and the Kansas State Nurses Association.
He grew up on a farm in central New York state, and now raises sheep on his farm west of Lawrence.
“Frankly, I haven’t given that much thought,” he said of what comes next. “I want things that will keep me mentally occupied. Whether that’s consulting or teaching as an adjunct faculty member, I’ll take a look at those (options).”
As of Monday afternoon, there were two candidates in the running for Sloan’s seat: Aidan Loveland Koster, of Lecompton, and Steven X. Davis, of Lawrence. Both are Democrats. Another candidate, Democrat and Lecompton resident Terry Manies, appears to have dropped out of the race, according to a candidate listing on the Kansas Secretary of State’s website.