Former congressional candidate Steve Fitzgerald to resign from Kansas Senate

In this file photo from July 13, 2017, Sen. Steve Fitzgerald announces his candidacy for the 2nd District congressional race. He ended up finishing fourth in the GOP primary.

Story updated at 4:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24.

TOPEKA — State Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, R-Leavenworth, said Monday that he is resigning from the Kansas Senate.

Fitzgerald, a retired Army officer who is serving his second term in the Senate and who has made headlines with some controversial statements, ran unsuccessfully this year for the Republican nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat. He finished fourth in a seven-person primary.

Republican officials said Monday that Fitzgerald had indicated he did not intend to run for a third term in 2020. His resignation will give Republican precinct committee officials in his district an opportunity to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of his term, then likely run as an incumbent in the 2020 election.

“I want to let the new guy get in, get settled, get ready for 2020,” Fitzgerald said in a phone interview Monday.

Fitzgerald was first elected to the Kansas Senate in 2012 as part of a conservative wave that year that gave allies of then-Gov. Sam Brownback a solid majority in the Senate. But he narrowly won re-election in 2016, when more moderate Republicans made a comeback in legislative races. He beat his Democratic challenger, Bill Hutton, by just 508 votes, a margin of less than 2 percent.

In 2017, Fitzgerald announced his bid for the GOP nomination for the 2nd District congressional seat, and he was seen as a likely front-runner at the time. But the race to succeed retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins later became crowded, and Fitzgerald ended up finishing a distant third behind fellow Army veteran Steve Watkins, of Topeka, and fellow Sen. Caryn Tyson, of Parker.

Watkins, who won the race with just 27 percent of the vote, issued a statement Monday praising Fitzgerald’s service.

“Steve was not only a worthy primary opponent, but he was also a leader, a good Republican, and a fierce advocate for conservatives across the great State of Kansas,” Watkins said in the statement.

During his time in the Senate, Fitzgerald was known for making some highly controversial statements, including one earlier this year when he referred to everything outside the western, Christian world as “barbarism.”

Last year, he compared Planned Parenthood to Nazi concentration camps, and in 2016, he said transgender individuals suffer from a form of “insanity” and that society should not respond by accepting that — a statement roundly rejected by leading psychologists who study gender dysphoria.

“During his time in the Senate, Sen. Fitzgerald made demeaning and cruel remarks about LGBT Kansans, especially transgender Kansans,” Thomas Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a statewide LGBT rights advocacy group, said in a statement. “We look forward to his immediate retirement, and hope this marks an end to a level of hateful rhetoric rarely seen in our legislature.”

But Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, who rose to the Senate’s top post in the conservative wave of 2012, praised Fitzgerald’s career in the Legislature.

“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.”

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