Opinion: Jenkins becomes part of the problem
Well, that sure did not take long.
Outgoing Kansas Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins is becoming a lobbyist. Via Twitter, she recently announced the formation of a new venture, LJ Strategies, LLC, already registered to lobby in the state of Kansas.
Ethics laws prohibit ex-members of Congress from lobbying that body for one year after leaving, so LJ Strategies will formally lobby only at the state level during its first year. After that, the field is wide open for Jenkins to use her years of institutional knowledge and insider connections to lobby her former colleagues.
Nothing about this is illegal. Jenkins and her partners know the law and followed it to the letter. But that does not make it right.
Jenkins’ gambit perfectly encapsulates voters’ anger at the so-called political establishment. Rage against it helped fuel President Trump’s rise among rank-and-file Republicans, who still approve of his performance in office at levels approaching 90 percent. Hillary Clinton came to personify The Establishment, also provoking the surprise challenge of Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination in 2016. Sanders is still in the game, and continued frustration also propels Democrats’ adoration for younger figures like the outspoken Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Ocasio-Cortez has even been discussed as a possible presidential candidate, despite the fact that she has yet to shape any policy decisions.
By contrast, Jenkins and her ilk are seasoned politicos, with decades of real-world experience learning how Congress, state legislatures and executive agencies really work. For example, Jenkins’ role in moving the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) to Manhattan was so important that it interfered with redistricting in 2012. Though population shifts seemed to dictate that Manhattan and NBAF be moved out of Jenkins’ district, the Kansas Legislature refused. Moving NBAF could jeopardize the whole project. Unable to agree on a map, legislators chucked the whole thing into the federal courts, making Kansas one of the last states to redistrict after the 2010 Census. The judges immediately and logically moved Manhattan to the First District.
Jenkins was also instrumental in a successful, multiyear effort to pass a new farm bill that was spearheaded by Senate Agriculture Committee chair Pat Roberts. The bill finally came to fruition last month, just weeks before the end of Jenkins’ term. Controversies, including changes in eligibility for SNAP benefits (formerly called food stamps), had delayed progress. This time, farmers’ alarm over the possible impact of Trump’s tariffs propelled the bill to passage. In addition, Jenkins was a member of House Republican leadership. Among other roles, she served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, writing tax policy.
Jenkins is respected, but her knowledge and skill cast a dark shadow. She is part of that inside-baseball, political culture that cannot resist — in Stephen Colbert’s pithy phrase — getting their beaks wet. They dip in, keeping up with their old friends in power and using their connections for a little extra cash.
Maybe more than a little.
Governing is complicated. We desperately need experienced hands at the tiller. Unfortunately, that is becoming a tough case to defend, when so many long-timers see themselves as part of an elite political class, trading on political connections far removed from the lives of those they used to represent.
Jenkins accomplished some remarkable things as a state legislator, state treasurer and member of Congress. Now, with the formation of LJ Strategies, LLC, she becomes part of the problem.
— Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.