TOPEKA — As Senate President Susan Wagle said goodbye to her colleagues, she reflected on how much has changed during her 30 years in the Legislature.
One thing that remains the same: Everyone who runs has a purpose.
The Wichita Republican delivered her farewell speech Thursday night during the Legislature’s 24-hour finale. Senate Majority Leader Jim Denning, a Republican from Overland Park, and Sen. Barbara Bollier, a Democrat from Mission Hills, also made parting remarks.
Wagle spoke about the motivation to represent people in every corner of Kansas that unites legislators. She told colleagues how much their support meant earlier this year when she lost her 38-year-old daughter, a physician at Stormont Vail in Topeka, to cancer.
"I want to thank you — thank you that we can have differences of opinions and still care for each other," Wagle said. "And that we can accept negotiating and compromise, and come out with the best product possible, which is what we're doing today. And I'm truly proud of each and every one of you and the work that you do. It's been a tremendous honor to serve."
For Wagle, abortions and rising taxes thrust her into the political arena. When she arrived in 1991, state government was even less transparent, she said, Republicans were the minority party, and smoking and drinking were allowed in the Capitol.
She considered quitting the race when she learned she was pregnant — a result of too much celebration after winning the primary, she said. A pregnant woman in office was still a novelty at the time, but she joined two other legislators in delivering a child at the end of the session.
After five terms in the House, she ran for the Senate. In 2013, she became the first woman to serve as Senate President. She is now running for the GOP nomination in the U.S. Senate race.
"We never get what we want," Wagle said in her final speech from the Senate floor, "and we can passionately debate for those things that we care about, but in the end, we need to remain friends."
The other 39 members of the chamber gave her a standing ovation.
"I think I can speak on behalf of all of our colleagues in the Senate," said Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia. "While there was an occasional time where we may not have agreed with you, there has never been a question of mutual respect, and I think that's the greatest honor we can bestow on you."
Bollier also is leaving the Legislature to campaign for the U.S. Senate seat. A retired physician and former Republican, Bollier said it is more important now than ever for Republicans and Democrats to work together.
"It has been the honor of my life to work alongside all of you, fighting the good fight for the people of my district, and for the people of Kansas," Bollier said. "Kansas is a very special place. We deeply value our independence, and we have a long history in the state of working together, of working across party lines, to get things done and to improve the lives of people and families in this state."
Before winning election to the Kansas Senate, Bollier served in the House from 2010-2016.
She said she was proud to have helped pass the Indoor Clean Air Act in 2010, which lowered rates for patients with lung disease. She lamented the Legislature’s failure to pass Medicaid expansion, which would provide health insurance to an estimated 90,000 low-income adults and 40,000 children in Kansas.
"We have not won this fight," Bollier said. "I'm not giving up, and neither should you. If we've learned anything during these last few months of the coronavirus crisis, it is that affordable health care is critical to the success of families across our state"
Denning is stepping down after two terms in the Senate and one in the House.
"I've always done my best to take the high road lead from the front, and govern as the majority leader position requires," Denning said. "Good governance is not always easy, and carries a serious responsibility. As a result, I may have experienced social distancing long before COVID-19 pandemic made it a household item."
Two House members also delivered farewell speeches. Rep. Jack Thimesch, R-Spivey, isn't seeking re-election, and Rep. Willie Dove, R-Bonner Springs, filed to run for a seat in the upper chamber. Both have served in the House for eight years.
"It's time to move on — move on and move out," Dove said. "When you feel you've done all you can do, and there's something more that you can do and can give of yourself, to each and every person that you meet in this great state of Kansas, then you've done all that there is. I thank you, I love you and I appreciate you."