Rep. Jenkins exits U.S. House leadership, may mull Kansas governor’s race

Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., right, with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016, following a House GOP caucus meeting. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

? U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins will be leaving the House Republicans’ leadership team when the new Congress convenes in January and said Wednesday that she’s willing to consider a run for Kansas governor in 2018.

Jenkins said she did not seek a third, two-year term as vice chairwoman of the GOP conference this week so that she could focus on tax and health care legislation. She’s a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which is expected to consider both subjects.

Jenkins, who has represented the 2nd District of eastern Kansas since 2009, said she’s looking forward to her first opportunity to work with Republican congressional majorities and a GOP president following Donald Trump’s election.

But fellow Kansas Republicans have repeatedly mentioned Jenkins as a potential candidate to replace term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in two years.

“Kansas is where my heart is, so whenever there’s an opportunity to serve back home, I’m always going to look at it, so that’s what I’m going to do,” she said during an Associated Press interview.

Other Republicans who have been mentioned as possible candidates for governor include U.S. Reps. Mike Pompeo and Kevin Yoder, Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, State Treasurer Ron Estes, Senate President Susan Wagle and Wichita oil company owner Wink Hartman. Secretary of State Kris Kobach has dropped off the list recently because Republicans believe he has a good chance of joining Trump’s administration.

The only Democrat mentioned consistently as a potential candidate is former Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who narrowly lost the 2014 race to Brownback.

Jenkins was a certified public accountant who served four years in the Legislature and six years as state treasurer before she was elected to Congress. She ran two statewide campaigns for treasurer, and state Sen. Jake LaTurner, a Pittsburg Republican who formerly worked on Jenkins’ staff, said she could unify the state GOP as a “conservative that gets things done.

“If Lynn decides that she wants to go that direction, sign me up,” LaTurner said.

Bob Beatty, a Washburn University political science professor, said that Jenkins could be a strong candidate. But she also could be vulnerable to a challenge from an outsider or anti-establishment figure because of her time in Washington, he said.

“In a post-Trump world, Jenkins would be the traditional Kansas Republican gubernatorial candidate,” Beatty said. “We now have to be much more cognizant of the outsider possibility. We know it can work.”

Jenkins said her immediate focus will be tax reform and replacing the federal health care law championed by Democratic President Barack Obama. She said both issues have “vaulted” to the top of the congressional agenda since Trump’s election.

“We’ve got an opportunity to work with a Republican president and a unified government, so I’m going to work really hard here to push forward some solutions to help Kansans by really making some critical changes here to the health care system and the tax code,” she said.