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O'Neal retires as Kansas Legislature ends


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) -- Mike O'Neal announced Friday that he is stepping down as speaker of the Kansas House, a decision that ends his 28 years in the Legislature but not necessarily his career in public office.

Addressing the House at the ceremonial close of the 2012 session, O'Neal thanked his colleagues and urged them to continue to respect the legislative process.

"Take serious the work you do here, but don't take yourselves too serious," said O'Neal, who was first elected in 1984 and served two terms as speaker.

The Republican said he wants to focus on his family and Hutchinson law practice, but did not rule out a return to the public arena.

"I will not be seeking re-election to the House in the upcoming election," he said.

O'Neal's name has been mentioned for possible appointment to other public office in future years, including a potential nomination as judge or state regulatory agency.

Legislators formed a receiving line for O'Neal after the session, offering often teary goodbyes to their leader.

House Minority Leader Paul Davis said while they didn't always agree, they had a good working relationship.

"He has had a tremendous career having served for 28 years and I wish him all the best in whatever endeavor he chooses next," said Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.

O'Neal, a graduate and staunch supporter of the University of Kansas, borrowed a comment from legendary Jayhawk broadcaster Max Falkenstien when he retired in 2006: "This is a good place to stop."

Also during Friday's brief and final session, lawmakers witnessed the swearing in of Lorene Bethell, wife of Rep. Bob Bethell, a Republican from Alden, who was killed in a car crash hours after legislators adjourned May 20. Lorene Bethell will serve out the remainder of her husband's term, which runs through January 2013.

House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, an Olathe Republican, read a citation honoring Bob Bethell for his service since being elected in 1999.

"He set a standard that will be very hard to equal in this body," Siegfreid said.