U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins told a Lawrence audience Thursday that she is thoroughly frustrated with the partisan gridlock in Washington, and that is one of the reasons she will not seek re-election in 2018.
"Did I mention that this is my last term?" Jenkins said when asked whether Congress will ever get over its partisan wrangling. "I have never been so frustrated in my life."
Jenkins, a Topeka Republican, is serving her fifth term in the U.S. House. Although she was widely viewed as a potential candidate for governor next year, she surprised the Kansas political world in January by saying that she would not seek any public office next year, but instead would return to the private sector.
Speaking in downtown Lawrence to the Jayhawk Rotary Club, Jenkins said voters themselves bear some responsibility.
"Bob Dole is a good friend of mine and a mentor. I talk to him regularly," she said. "And he tells about a day when members of Congress moved their families to Washington. Their kids went to school together. They went to church together, they socialized together and they got to know each other as human beings, not as the majority or minority party. And you know what? It kind of worked. They could find some common ground.
"Those days are gone," she said. "No one wants to move their family to Washington because the constituencies will think you’ve gone Washington. They want to see me walking on Mass Street.
"They want to see me in church on Sunday, buying gas where you all buy gas. People expect that now, and so nobody is moving their family to Washington," Jenkins continued. "We get to see each other four days a week and we’re going 100 miles an hour and we don’t get to know each other."
Jenkins noted that she was one of the founding members of a bipartisan group known as the "No Labels" conference that was seeking to blunt what members referred to as "extremism" in both parties.
And she believed that group was starting to make progress.
"But I will tell you, just recently, that has kind of disintegrated because, once again, the minority party — I have good friends in the minority party in the House — they’ve been instructed, under no circumstance will they help Republicans govern right now because they see an opportunity to get the gavels back after the next election cycle," Jenkins said.
Jenkins made no mention of the often-quoted remark by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in 2010, midway through Democratic President Barack Obama's first term, when he said, "Our top political priority over the next two years should be to deny President Obama a second term."
Jenkins also defended President Donald J. Trump, whom she pointedly criticized last week for his comments following violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left three people dead and many more injured.
"Look, he was not my pick of the litter," said Jenkins, who initially supported Carly Fiorina for the GOP nomination. "But I trust the American people made their decision, and, by golly, he has the right to move forward with his agenda as promised to the American people. I think he’s capable of doing some really good things for this country.
"I’m of the opinion that we’re all on the airplane and he’s the pilot, and, by golly, we shouldn’t be rooting for him to go down. Because this is our country and we need him to be successful," she said. "Do I wish he would put his Twitter account on hold? Absolutely. But he thinks he’s found a way to directly communicate with the American people, and so he is what he is. I’m not changing him. He’s too old for that."
Jenkins made her remarks in Lawrence on the same day that the race to fill her seat next year heated up when Republican state Sen. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, announced that she is entering the 2nd District GOP primary.
Tyson joins fellow Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, of Leavenworth, and Basehor City Councilman Vernon J. Fields in the GOP race. State Rep. Kevin Jones, of Wellsville, is also running.
Lawrence attorney Paul Davis, a former Kansas House minority leader and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2014, has announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination. Neosho County resident Kelly Standley has also filed in that race.
The 2nd District covers most of eastern Kansas outside the Kansas City metropolitan area, including Lawrence and Topeka.