Government & Politics

Olathe GOP lawmaker takes on additional job: senior government strategist with Cerner

A leading Olathe lawmaker has taken a job with the Cerner Corp. as a senior government strategist while still holding elected office.

Rep. Erin Davis, an Olathe Republican who serves on the House budget and tax committees, would not directly comment about whether she plans to leave the Legislature.

She said she did not see her Cerner job as a conflict of interest. “My territory is (the) Northwest United States,” Davis said. “... Kansas is not part of my territory.”

Misti Preston, a spokeswoman for Cerner, confirmed that Davis’ employment in a full-time position started in September. When asked whether the job includes lobbying, Preston said, “No, her primary responsibilities are identifying business opportunities in state and local government in the Northwest territory.”

Preston said Davis had no responsibilities for any work for Cerner in Kansas.

Under Kansas law, “employment of legislator as a lobbyist (is) prohibited.”

Craig Holman, a government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, a group that advocates for greater ethics and transparency in government, said he saw a potential conflict for Davis.

“At this point she is wearing two hats,” Holman said. “One as a lawmaker supposed to be representing the public’s interest, and then a second hat as representing” the corporation’s interest.

Very few lobbyists call themselves lobbyists, Holman said, and the term most use is government strategist or vice president of government affairs.

“This sounds like a title of a lobbyist,” Holman said. “But, even if it isn’t, it poses a conflict of interest when you have a lawmaker who’s also taking a position with a major corporation that the lawmaker oversees in his or her official capacity.”

Cerner, a health care information technology company, is headquartered in North Kansas City, according to its website.

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment currently has a contract with Cerner that runs through the end of 2019 to administer the state employee health plan wellness program.

Davis said in a text message Wednesday that her position at Cerner “gives me a unique understanding of health policy. An understanding that I believe my constituents benefit from.”

The company had two lobbyists in the Kansas Legislature in 2017, according to the Kansas secretary of State’s lobbyist directory, and has one, Brian Baker, listed for 2018.

Baker’s title with Cerner is lead government strategist, according to the company.

Davis’ legislative page from the 2017 session lists her occupation as an attorney. She has served in the House since 2014 and won re-election last fall.

The conservative lawmaker was among the GOP legislators who voted to override Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a bill that rolled back his earlier tax cuts.

House Minority Leader Jim Ward, a Wichita Democrat, said he was concerned about Davis’ new job.

“You can only serve one master in the political arena,” Ward said.

A spokesman for House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, did not immediately respond when asked to comment Wednesday.

An issue stemming from a lawmaker working for a group lobbying in the Legislature emerged just a few years ago.

Former state Rep. Steve Brunk, a Wichita Republican, accepted a job in late 2015 as executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, a group that lobbies the Legislature on abortion and other social issues, and originally stated he would hold on to his seat in the Legislature.

Brunk resigned after a wave of criticism both in Kansas and nationally about the conflict of interest. He registered as a lobbyist in February 2016 after multiple denials that his position would entail lobbying the Legislature.

Davis said her situation was “absolutely different” from Brunk’s.

“Rep. Brunk was working in a lobbying capacity for an entity that was specific only to the state of Kansas and his expressed position was to lobby legislators in the state of Kansas,” Davis said.

The Star’s Bryan Lowry and Andy Marso contributed to this report.

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw