- Associated Press - Thursday, December 17, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - The chairman of a Kansas House committee that handles legislation on abortion and gay rights said Thursday that he’s resigning early next month to lead a conservative group that aims to influence policy on social issues.

Republican Rep. Steve Brunk, of Wichita, submitted a resignation letter to the secretary of state’s office and plans to step down Jan. 4, a week before lawmakers open their 2016 session. He will be Kansas executive director for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Colorado-based Focus on the Family, which has been allied with the Kansas Family Policy Council.

Brunk told The Associated Press that he’ll be building an organization that can link churches, pastors and thousands of individuals with traditional Judeo-Christian values on social issues so that they can influence state policy and local elections. He said he will not be lobbying lawmakers but that CitizenLink may eventually hire a lobbyist.

He first became chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee in 2011 and is a strong opponent of abortion and same-sex marriage. The panel has considered legislation on those topics, as well as gambling, liquor and gun rights.

“I knew that my history, my background and my resume was just exactly what they were looking for,” Brunk said. “I just was praying about it, and just felt like God was leading me to join this organization.”

The same committee’s former vice chairman, ex-Republican Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady, of Palco, resigned earlier this month to become a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association.

The Wichita Eagle first reported last week that Brunk was taking the CitizenLink position, though he said at the time that he hadn’t formally accepted it, and KWCH-TV in Wichita confirmed Wednesday that Brunk would leave the House.

Democrats and GOP moderates have criticized Brunk for suggesting he could retain his legislative seat while leading the group. State law prohibits current lawmakers from working as lobbyists, but Brunk said the prohibition wouldn’t have applied because he won’t lobby. He said Thursday that he is leaving the Legislature because his new job will be full-time.

“Initially, my job is to build the structure of the organization,” Brunk said. “Certainly, there’s no question that we want to influence the culture on behalf of traditional family values.”

Democratic Rep. Jim Ward, of Wichita, said the new job is good fit ideologically for Brunk, but added that ex-legislators should be required by state law to wait to join advocacy groups.

“That is just good taste,” he said. “Shouldn’t we have better ethics laws?”

Brunk, a 64-year-old real estate broker, was first elected to the House in 2002, and he also serves on its tax and commerce committees.

“Legislators come and go, and honestly, we’re blips on the radar screen of life,” Brunk said.

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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