Topeka, Kansas — Susan Wagle, a Pennsylvania-born 65-year-old is the only woman who has succeeded in serving as the Kansas Senate president. Wagle, who’s beaten cancer, has spent around three decades doing politics in Topeka. Now, she has announced it’s time for her to try and move to Washington.
Wagle will officially begin with her U.S. Senate campaign on Wednesday after she has spent months talking up her deliberation on launching the bid. Namely, Wagle is hopeful of succeeding Republican Senator Pat Roberts, who has announced his retirement. In her Senate campaign announcement, Wagle said that she would press on with striving to do her best as the Kansas Senate’s top Republican. The difference is, she now wishes to represent Kansas on the federal level.
Many see Democrats’ best bet for the Senate seat to be Governor Laura Kelly. Wagle has tried to place herself as the leading Republican opposition to Kelly, having had previous clashes of opinions on tax policy and other important aspects. Experts perceive her vocal disagreement with Democratic policies to be an important asset for receiving the nomination from the GOP.
Wagle didn’t waste any time trying to stand out from her party colleagues as well. She said that, having looked at the list of Republican candidates, she was the only proven leader amongst them. On Tuesday evening, the Federal Election Commission received Wagle’s statement of candidacy. The following day, Wagle’s campaign office published a promo video, with Wagle supposed to hold a conference call privately with her supporters.
Her fellow Republican, Kris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State, has already officially joined the race for the Senate. In 2018, Wagle endorsed Kobach for governor, saying at the time that she fully expected President Donald Trump to endorse Kobach as well. However, later on, she expressed her disappointment with Kobach’s campaign. Moreover, she was critical of Kobach’s involving himself with We Build the Wall. WBTW started as a GoFundMe campaign which proved to be a controversial organization trying to build a border wall by gathering funds from private donors.
While Wagle supports the building of the wall with federal money, she believes that Kobach’s affiliates sabotage such efforts. Wagle called them a rogue organization and said that the country didn’t need suchlike groups to go out and build the wall on their own. Kobach, contrarily, has often publicly promoted the organization and his involvement with it, claiming that they have received Trump’s blessings.
According to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, current Secretary of State and former Kansas congressman, Mike Pompeo, would be his ideal candidate for Roberts’ successor. Wagle has weighed in on the issue, saying that Pompeo would be of greater service to the country if he remained at the State Department. She called Pompeo a personal friend of hers, claiming that they talked about her Senate candidacy. She didn’t disclose if Pompeo had expressed any interest in joining the race.
In the last few decades, there were but a handful of politicians with statewide victories originating from Wichita, despite it being the largest city in the state and the residency of the aviation industry. As of now, Wagle is the only Republican from Wichita campaigning for the seat. Many anticipated Wagle’s campaign, with a fundraising website going online in early July.
Wagle said that Wichitans need a fellow citizen in the Senate, with the city going through a growth spurt. Wagle, a small business owner herself, has acquired many ties within the business community of Wichita. For instance, Kansas’ richest man, billionaire Charles Koch, lives in Wagle’s district and has publicly supported several of her campaigns in the past.
Kelly Arnold, former chair of the Kansas GOP, said that Wagle’s being the only woman Republican campaigning for the Senate would appeal to many people throughout the state. Furthermore, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, Patrick Miller, also shared his opinion on Wagle’s campaign. He said that her first challenge would be to establish what her place in the race was and which approach she would take.
Kobach has already established his brand among voters, according to Miller. Going off the speeches Wagle held recently, Miller believes the candidate tries to promote herself as a “master legislator.” Wagle focused on building up her abilities to go through conservative policies as a legislative leader. In that respect, Miller said, it felt as if she wanted to present herself as the Nancy Pelosi of the GOP.
Wagle is a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council board. The council represents a conservative group whose main goal is to find legislative means to loosen state regulations and cut taxes.
In 1990, Wagle entered the Kansas House and, after a decade of service, she went to the state Senate. In 2006, she was part of the unsuccessful GOP nominee Jim Barnett’s campaign as his running mate and a nominee for lieutenant governor. As a reminder, Barnett lost the race to Kathleen Sebelius, Democratic Governor. The year 2012 was more successful for Wagle, as she managed to recruit conservative candidates who won against moderate GOP counterparts. This resulted in Wagle’s becoming the Senate president.
Even after Democrats and moderates ousted a large part of the conservatives in the next state election, Wagle managed to keep her position. Now, Wagle uses this fact as a prime example of her leadership and negotiating skills. When asked about the achievements she was most proud of during her 28-year Legislature career, Wagle talked about the legislation that passed during her Senate presidency. She singled out welfare restrictions which Democrat Kelly tried to abolish.
Additionally, Wagle mentioned the anti-abortion law which the Kansas Supreme Court repealed earlier this year. The Court decided against the law as they found that the Kansas Constitution demanded that women have a right to abortion. In the wake of this ruling, Wagle intends to advocate an amendment to the Constitution which would make the abortion restriction abide by the highest state law. Wagle said she disapproved of the ruling, claiming that such a ruling could deny every restriction in the law books.
In 2015 and 2017, Wagle was in charge during the state’s two longest legislative sessions in history. Then, lawmakers tried to work out a solution for budget shortcomings which happened during Sam Brownback’s governance. Brownback caused the shortfalls by introducing tax cuts. Wagle, although critical of Brownback’s budget policies, was against the Senate’s desire to overrule Brownback’s veto on tax cuts repeal.
Wagle’s preferred approach to fixing the crisis in the budget is to cut state spending instead of increasing taxes. She said she was ready to take this approach to Washington, with the national debt currently sitting north of $22 trillion. She sees this debt as a huge problem for the country, as she feels the United States is about to hit a brick wall if they continue to spend money which is beyond their reach.
Nevertheless, Wagle is in support of Trump’s tax cuts, which have negatively affected debt growth. She said that they would be on the right road once they managed to work out how to fix spending issues.
Health Care Policies
Wagle also addressed the issue people of Kansas face regarding health care costs. She called on Republicans to deliver the promise of replacing the Affordable Care Act. As someone who had to go through non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Wagle said that health care was a “deeply personal issue” for her. On top of her own health problems, three of her children (she’s a mother of four) have faced the battle with different forms of cancer. In fact, Julia Scott, her daughter, is still on the recovery path from blood cancer, multiple myeloma. Wagle said that she would prioritize her daughter’s health over the Senate campaign.
Wagle leads a rich family life. Alongside her four children, she also has three stepkids and 15 grandchildren. She showed to the media a photo of her granddaughter. In it, during a formal occasion, the kid was wearing cowboy boots. Wagle said that photo inspired her run, as, according to Wagle, the Senate was in need of a “woman in cowboy boots.”