Lynn Jenk­ins’ next move is le­gal, but not right

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MICHAEL A. SMITH

Well, that sure did not take long.

Former 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 pro­pels Democrats’ ado­ra­tion for younger fig­ures like new Con­gress­woman Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez of New York. Oca­sio-Cortez has even been dis­cussed as a pos­si­ble pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, de­spite the fact that she just took of­fice and has yet to shape 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 AgroDe­fense Fa­cil­ity to Man­hat­tan, Kansas, was so im­por­tant that it in­ter­fered with re­dis­trict­ing in 2012. Though pop­u­la­tion shifts seemed to dic­tate that Man­hat­tan and the NBAF be moved out of Jenk­ins’ district, the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture re­fused. Mov­ing the 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, multi-year 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 in­side­base­ball, 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 has be­come a tough case to de­fend, when so many long­timers see them­selves as part of an elite po­lit­i­cal class, trad­ing on po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions far re­moved from the lives of those they used to rep­re­sent.

Lynn Jenk­ins ac­com­plished some re­mark­able things as a state leg­is­la­tor, state trea­surer and mem­ber of Congress. Now, with the for­ma­tion of LJ Strate­gies, she be­comes part of the prob­lem.

Michael A. Smith is a Pro­fes­sor of Po­lit­i­cal Science at Em­po­ria State Uni­ver­sity

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