by Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector
January 6, 2023
TOPEKA — Democrats selected a 10-year member of the Manhattan City Commission to fill the Kansas Senate seat to be vacated by retirement Sen. Tom Hawk.
Usha Reddi, who served twice as mayor of Manhattan, ran for the U.S. Senate in 2020 before suspending that campaign as the COVID-19 pandemic expanded its reach in Kansas.
She was chosen by precinct members in Riley, Clay and Geary counties Thursday to complete two years of Hawk’s term. In December, Hawk said he would retire from the Legislature on Jan. 10 — one day after opening of the annual session.
“I’m thrilled to represent Senate District 22,” Reddi said. “Senator Tom Hawk is an outstanding leader and I’m sure I’ll be reaching out to him many times.”
She was initially elected the Manhattan City Commission in 2013 and reelected in 2017 and 2021. She was mayor in 2016-2017 and 2020.
Reddi, like Hawk, worked in public education. Hawk is a former superintendent and teacher, while Reddi was a first-grade teacher in Manhattan-Ogden public schools for more than 10 years. She earned degrees elementary education at Kansas State University and developmental psychology from Ohio State University. She also completed a master’s degree in educational leadership at Kansas State.
Reddi’s family immigrated from India to the United States in 1973 when she was eight years old. She has resided in Manhattan for 28 years.
“Many of us have known Usha in her capacity as a community leader for years now, and we look forward to bringing her into the fold when she joins us as a legislative colleague,” said Senate Democratic Leader Dinah Sykes of Lenexa.
In terms of the 2023 legislative session, there will be two Republican and one Democratic newcomers in the Senate. The GOP will still have a 29-11 advantage over Democrats.
The 40-member Senate wasn’t on the ballot in 2022, but Sen. Ron Ryckman Sr., R-Meade, won a special election to retain his seat. He was appointed in 2021 to replace the late Sen. Bud Estes.
Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, a Republican from Cherokee County, said he would resign Sunday from the Legislature. He was appointed to the Senate in 2017 and was elected in 2020 to a full term. Republicans in the 13th Senate of southeast Kansas will choose a replacement.
Meanwhile, Wichita Republican Sen. Gene Suellentrop stepped down Jan. 2 from District 27. The Sedgwick County Republican Party’s precinct vote resulted in nomination of Chase Blasi, who served on the staff of Senate President Ty Masterson of Andover, to represent Suellentrop’s district. Blasi defeated Karl Peterjohn, who is on the Sedgwick County Commission.
“There are too many things in my life that are more important, at this stage, than serving in the Kansas Legislature,” Suellentrop said.
Suellentrop was removed from his post as Senate majority leader after arrested in March 2021 in Topeka for driving at high speeds the wrong way on Interstate 70. He was found to have a 0.17% blood-alcohol level, which was twice the legal limit. He spent two days in jail after convicted of driving under the influence and reckless driving.
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