U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Republican whose district covers most of eastern Kansas outside the Kansas City area, tweeted on Wednesday that she’s serving her last term in Congress.
She’d been rumored among a field of possible candidates to replace Gov. Sam Brownback when his final term expires in less than two years. Her announcement on Wednesday suggested instead that she’ll soon be done with politics.
After re-election to Congress in November, Jenkins announced that she was pulling out of the House leadership team. As the conference vice chairwoman, she was the fifth-ranking Republican in the House.
On Wednesday, she confirmed in a tweet that she was in her final term. “I will be retiring from public service. There is a lot more work to be done so let’s finish strong!”
In a Facebook post, she made it clearer that she was not going to run for governor.
“I plan to retire and explore opportunities to return to the private sector, allowing a new citizen legislator to step up and serve Kansans,” she said.
An accountant, she served four years in the Kansas Legislature and six years as state treasurer before taking office in the U.S. House in 2009. Her two successful statewide races for treasurer had fueled speculation that Jenkins would be a formidable candidate for governor.
But Jenkins said in the Facebook post that with Donald Trump in the presidency and Republicans controlling Capitol Hill, she wanted to focus on implementing Republican policies in Congress.
“This is a time for fighting for Kansas and making the tough calls; not fundraising and campaigning,” she wrote.
Jenkins charted an impressive political career. She notably upset former U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun in the 2008 Republican congressional primary and then beat the person who had unseated him two years before, then-Congresswoman Nancy Boyda.
That track record had political insiders anticipating her making a strong run for governor.
“She never said she was going to run, but most people assumed she would,” said Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas Republican Party. “She would probably have started out as the strongest candidate. This clears the field out for people who would have been thinking about running.”
Another possible candidate for governor, former U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo, has just taken the helm at the CIA, all but eliminating him from the 2018 race. State Treasurer Ron Estes also was considered a possible candidate, but he’s now running to replace Pompeo in the 4th District.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, who represents the 3rd District covering Johnson and Wyandotte counties, is seen as a remaining contender. Other possible candidates include Lt. Gov. Jeff Colyer, Attorney General Derek Schmidt, Senate President Susan Wagle and Wichita oil company owner Wink Hartman. Secretary of State Kris Kobach is also seen as a possible candidate, although he’s rumored for a role in the Trump administration.
Ed O’Malley, who served in the Kansas House from Johnson County and now heads the Kansas Leadership Center in Wichita, has already formed an exploratory committee in the first stage of his run for governor.
On the Democratic side, former Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, who lost to Brownback in 2014, is considered a possible candidate. He also might run to replace Jenkins in the U.S. House.
Analysts see Jenkins’ departure as another factor that could see a wide range of political races in 2018.
If Estes wins the 4th District seat in the U.S. House, the treasurer’s office will draw competitive candidates. If Schmidt runs for governor, or for Congress, the attorney general post will be open. So will lieutenant governor, and possibly secretary of state.
“You’ll have a lot going on in a lot of different races,” said Chapman Rackaway, a political science professor at Fort Hays State University. “There’s a lot yet to play out.”