Western Kansas Rep. Russ Jennings dies following cancer diagnosis

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Kansas Rep. Russ Jennings, 66, a Lakin Republican, died Wednesday morning, three months after disclosing he’d been diagnosed with advanced stage cancer.

A moderate, Jennings was first elected to the Kansas House in 2012 after a career in law enforcement and serving as Kansas’ Commissioner of Juvenile Justice. He did not plan to run for reelection in 2022.

Speaker of the House Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, announced Jenning’s death in an email to House members Wednesday afternoon.

“It was no secret that Russ and I had our differences. But, his character was such that we could disagree on an issue and still have a laugh and a mutual respect for each other at the end of the day. That kind of character is a rare find, and one of the many qualities for which he will be missed,” Ryckman wrote.

Jennings served as chair of the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee and was an advocate for juvenile justice reform initiatives.

Sen. Molly Baumgardner, a Louisburg Republican, announced his death to members of the joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Wednesday afternoon, lauding Jenning’s knowledge and passion for juvenile justice issues.

In a statement House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer said he worked with Jennings regularly on a bipartisan basis.

Republicans and Democrats in the state expressed condolences and shared memories of Jennings on Twitter Wednesday afternoon.

Rep. Brandon Woodard, a Lenexa Democrat, called Jenning’s death a “painful loss for Kansas.”

“Russ Jennings fought for Western Kansas every day in the Legislature. I enjoyed learning from him while serving together on the House Judiciary Committee,” wrote Rep. Nick Hoheisel, a Wichita Republican.

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