“Why We Left Congress”: Excerpts of Our Conversation with Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS)

Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins (R-KS) has represented Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District since January 2009.

A former accountant who served six years as the treasurer of Kansas, Jenkins announced her decision to retire at the end of the 115th Congress in January 2017, citing plans to “explore opportunities to return to the private sector, allowing a new citizen legislator to step up and serve Kansans.”

During her five terms in Congress, Jenkins has worked in a number of roles, including as the chair of the House Ways and Means Committee’s oversight subcommittee and as the vice chair of the Republican House Conference.

The following are excerpts of an interview Issue One and the R Street Institute conducted with Jenkins for the “Why We Left Congress” project, a joint report about congressional dysfunction and what can be done to fix it, based on exit interviews with a bipartisan group of lawmakers who decided not to run for re-election in 2018.

On the fundraising pressures faced by members of Congress:

I think we’re all frustrated by it … Nobody likes asking people for money … [But] I never lost a lot of sleep worrying about that personally.

How she approached fundraising over her career:

If you maintain relationships with people that you work for and the people that support your cause and what it is that you’re working for, then the money follows … I wish we didn’t have to spend any time raising money, but I just always tried to look at it as relationship building. And if people support what you’re doing, they’ll support you financially.

Her advice to incoming House members:

It’s almost impossible to be in command of every detail. I think the best thing I can tell people is just to make sure you hire an incredibly capable staff, starting with your chief of staff, and then trust them to do their jobs. If you hire the right, smart, capable folks and turn them loose to do great and wonderful things, you’re bound to be a success.

On the leadership fights she’s witnessed in the House:

If leadership were easy, I think you’d see everyone rushing to do it … In the case of [outgoing House Speaker] Paul Ryan, we had to draft someone to step up. No one actually wants the job. It’s incredibly difficult.

On the importance of regular order:

I’m sympathetic to what folks call regular order in the House, and I’d love for Congress to get back to doing just the basics.

On the dysfunction in Congress right now:

Congress is a direct reflection of the American people right now. I don’t think we behave any differently than the folks that come to my town halls from opposite ends of the political spectrum. There’s just a lot of frustration right now. So, my hope and prayer is that at some point we start being more kind and gentle with one another, working towards common ground, and stop moving to our corners and hating on the other party.

An example of congressional dysfunction she experienced:

[During] my first term, we were physically locked out of the committee room one day, and I thought “Wow, this is not what I signed up for.”

What she wishes more people understood about Congress:

I just wish more Americans understood there are a lot of good people in Congress. They’re there on both sides of the aisle, maybe with different approaches on how to solve the nation’s problems, but the majority of them there are for the right reasons, you know, trying to do what’s right.

Want to read more about this topic? Check out the full “Why We Left Congress” report, written by Marian Currinder of the R Street Institute and Michael Beckel and Amisa Ratliff of Issue One.