TOPEKA — Republican congressional candidate Antonio Soave revealed Tuesday the decision to quit Kansas’ Second District race in wake of controversy about his leadership at the state’s commerce department and litigation centered on private business dealings.
Soave, who served as secretary of the Kansas Department of Commerce from November 2015 until June, said stress of the campaign had been greater than anticipated and he would withdraw from the contest to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan.
“After a great deal of prayer and contemplation, my wife and I have decided that it is best to withdraw from the U.S. congressional race,” Soave said in a statement. “As we move on to the next chapter of our lives, we kindly ask for your prayers.”
The end of Soave’s candidacy was anticipated after exposure of apparent conflicts of interest in his issuance of commerce department contracts to acquaintances and former business colleagues. The issue first was reported by the Kansas City Star.
Gov. Sam Brownback reluctantly confirmed he had fired Soave as Cabinet secretary, which departed from a previous statement from the governor praising Soave as someone with “great vision” who brought enthusiasm for entrepreneurship to state government.
In addition, Soave resigned as commerce secretary two weeks after Lawrence business partner Paola Ghezzo filed a lawsuit claiming Soave used Ghezzo’s $500,000 investment in their Overland Park consulting firm as “his own personal piggy bank” to maintain a “lavish lifestyle.” In more than two years of operation, their company had $20,000 in gross revenue.
Soave said in the end-of-campaign statement that he was proud to serve Kansans as commerce secretary and defended his leadership of the agency.
“I did my very best to increase the economic impact on the state in a way that I felt was appropriate and positive,” he said.
Other GOP candidates in the Second District include Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker, Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, Rep. Kevin Jones of Wellsville, Topekans Matt Bevins and Steve Watkins, and Basehor resident Vernon Fields. On the Democratic side of the ledger, former Rep. Paul Davis, who ran for governor in 2014, is the front runner.
Fitzgerald said he wasn’t surprised Soave cut short his campaign for Congress.
“It’s about time. He had some problems,” Fitzgerald said. “I’d like to see him stay in. I’d like to have an opportunity to discuss the issues.”
Kelly Arnold, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Soave should have expected his past business affairs would be closely analyzed by political rivals.
“Any candidate who puts himself out there should know people will look into every part of their background,” said Arnold, who is running for Kansas secretary of state.
Arnold said the Kansas GOP would dig deep in an effort to retain the Second District, which includes Topeka and stretches from the Oklahoma to Nebraska border in eastern Kansas. He expects an influx of out-of-state funding for Republican and Democratic nominees in the district.
“We will never take a seat for granted,” Arnold said. “This is obviously one of the top seats we have as a priority.”