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Topeka — Some Republicans watched with frustration last week as Lynn Jenkins, their nominee in the 2nd Congressional District, faced questions about recent meetings she missed as a state pension system trustee.
Democratic Rep. Nancy Boyda raised the issue during their last debate. Fellow Democrats noted that as Jenkins was missing meetings, turmoil on Wall Street was causing the pension fund's assets to decline more than $1 billion in value.
Republicans said the missed meetings weren't a big deal. But the Kansas GOP's frustration suggested at least a little fear that Jenkins might have lost a little ground with voters - in a close race in which a few missteps might make the difference.
Republicans have another reason to be frustrated. If the issue sticks with voters, it will because the GOP has made diligence an issue against several Democrats, including Boyda. Something the GOP has raised will have unintentionally boomeranged.
Boyda is seeking her second term in the eastern Kansas. Jenkins is a two-term state treasurer.
As treasurer, Jenkins automatically has a seat on the Public Employees Retirement System's Board of Trustees. Since January 2003, she's missed 12 of 46 meetings, or 26 percent, including ones in July, August and September.
Since July 31, KPERS estimates that its assets have dropped almost $1.1 billion in value, or about 9 percent.
Boyda's attack particularly grated on Christian Morgan, the Kansas GOP's executive director. That's not surprising, because Morgan has been criticizing Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius for months for campaigning outside Kansas for her party's presidential nominee, Barack Obama.
In August and September, the governor's staff disclosed, she spent 14 days campaigning for Obama in 12 states.
The political result? A big yawn, it seems. "People have told me that it is a nonissue," Morgan said.
Of course, Sebelius isn't on the ballot this year. And, as she noted, she's got a Blackberry to keep her in touch by phone or e-mail, meaning she was probably more isolated from her office during the hours she spent answering a jury duty summons last week.
Jenkins also has said e-mail allows her to keep up with KPERS business.
But it's not just Sebelius who's faced questions from Republicans about her diligence. In July, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts' re-election campaign began airing an ad that attacked Democratic challenger Jim Slattery, a former 2nd District congressman, for missing 44 percent of his scheduled votes in 1994, his last year in the House.
The reason - as Slattery pointed out - was Slattery's unsuccessful run for governor that year. The Democrat has decried the attack as a cheap shot.
But fair to Slattery or not, Roberts' ad planted the idea that showing up is important.
Attack on Boyda
Republicans also opened Jenkins to questions about the KPERS meetings by attacking Boyda frequently over an incident during a House Armed Services Committee meeting in July 2007. Boyda walked out for about 10 minutes during the testimony of a retired Army general.
Jenkins and her aides have said it's a matter of respect for the military and being willing to listen to someone with expertise, even if their views conflict with yours.
But anyone who's spent much time in legislative hearings might question the idea that it's absolutely vital to stay for every minute. Missed information can be picked up easily later, because much of it is in written form already. Also, hearings, especially congressional ones, tend to feature a lot of bloviating by both lawmakers and witnesses.
With Republicans making such a big deal about Boyda walking out on the retired general, Democrats naturally raised the question of whether Jenkins had ever missed official business.
It's not clear how much Jenkins' missed meetings will stick with voters. If she loses, analysts and political activists could see the issue as one of many small problems that prevented her victory.
But one thing is clear: Jenkins has been caught, albeit unintentionally, in a net that fellow Republicans wove.