Topeka New Kansas Education Commissioner Bob Corkins has frequently cited his past experience as a lobbyist for the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry as evidence that he can work well with diverse interests.
The statewide organization has numerous, sometimes competing, interests among big, medium and small businesses, he said.
"I do have a lot of experience dealing with a wide range of people," he said last week to a group of school superintendents, some of whom expressed concern that his conservative politics and lack of an educational background would be a detriment in his new job as education commissioner.
But his record as a lobbyist for the chamber is mixed.
Some who worked with him said he was talented and effective, while others said he was confrontational and close-minded.
Banned from office
The former chairwoman of the Senate Tax Committee Audrey Langworthy, a moderate Republican from Prairie Village, banned Corkins from her office in the late 1990s.
Langworthy said Corkins was argumentative and under-handed. "Bob was definitely working with the ultraconservatives in the House," Langworthy said.
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"Lobbyists are supposed to present their clients' position. I did not feel he was being accurate in representing the Kansas chambers' position," she said.
Corkins lobbied the Legislature on tax issues for the statewide business organization for more than eight years from 1989 to 1998, the longest time he has spent at one job.
His then-boss at the chamber, Bud Grant of Topeka, described Corkins as "a bright guy, a real asset."
But Grant, the former vice president of the chamber, added, "I'd have to sit on him on occasion. It took me a while to teach him that you make your point with legislators and get out. You don't argue with them."
Corkins' background has been under the microscope since the conservative majority on the State Board of Education appointed him to the $140,000 per year job of education commissioner.
His past dealings with lawmakers could have a big impact on how effective he is when the education board seeks legislative help.
Sen. Janis Lee, of Kensington, who has been the ranking Democrat on the Senate tax committee for 17 years, said Corkins was sometimes confrontational and disrespectful when testifying to the committee.
Lee mentioned the run-in between Langworthy and Corkins.
Grant, who was vice president of the chamber at the time , said there was "bad blood" between Langworthy and Corkins. He said the incident arose when Corkins was trying to work out differences in a bill between Langworthy and former House Speaker Tim Shallenburger, a conservative Republican.
Grant said Langworthy perceived that Corkins was acting as an advocate for Shallenburger.
Former Senate President Dick Bond, a moderate Republican from Overland Park, said he remembered legislators unhappy with Corkins.
"I do recall many of the (tax) committee members didn't have a lot of respect for his testimony and questioned at times the information he gave the committee," Bond said.
But, Bond said, he could remember no specifics.
Always the truth
Corkins was out of town Friday when contacted for this article, but said through State Department of Education spokeswoman Kathy Toelkes that he never provided false testimony to the Legislature.
According to Corkins "there was an instance where Senator Langworthy did become angry" with him.
But, he said, he and Langworthy have had several pleasant conversations since.
When asked about that, Langworthy said she had no recollection of having any pleasant conversations with Corkins after she banned him from her office. She said Corkins was the only person in her more than 15 years in the Senate that she asked not to come back to her office.
Corkins left the chamber in 1998 and started a career heading conservative think tanks where he fought against increased school funding.
Most recently he headed a one-person think tank funded predominantly with dues paid to the organization by dozens of conservative Kansas state legislators.
Jim Edwards, a former chamber lobbyist who now works for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said Corkins' philosophy didn't fit the chamber's philosophy at the time.
"During that time there was a strong interest and support of public education and highways. Those things cost money. Bob has always felt that taxes should be lower," Edwards said.