Government & Politics

Former Kansas House speaker, lobbyist joins race to replace Lynn Jenkins

Former Kansas House speaker Doug Mays is running for Congress in the 2nd District.
Former Kansas House speaker Doug Mays is running for Congress in the 2nd District. File photo

A former speaker of the Kansas House who has spent the past decade working as a lobbyist in Topeka has entered the crowded race to succeed U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins.

Doug Mays, a Topeka Republican who served as speaker from 2003 to 2006, officially withdrew his status as a lobbyist in Topeka on Tuesday to launch a congressional campaign in Kansas’ 2nd District.

“I hadn’t really planned on it, but to tell you the truth people started calling me four to six weeks ago,” Mays said in a phone call Thursday. “They weren’t really seeing any candidates that they cared for.”

Democrat Paul Davis, a former lawmaker from Lawrence, has raised more than $1 million for the race, more than all the previously announced Republican candidates combined, which has sparked panic among GOP activists both in Kansas and in Washington.

Mays said he had no doubt that he can close the fundraising gap with Davis.

“Democrats are very good at narrowing down to one person early. He may be crushing people now, but I don’t think that’s going to happen in the long run,” Mays said.

He called the economy the most important issue facing the district and voiced concerns about tension with China over trade, but he stopped short of criticizing President Donald Trump’s decision to pursue tariffs on Chinese goods.

China has responded by weighing tariffs on soybeans and other U.S. goods.

“I don’t necessarily disagree on it. I just want to learn a little more about it,” Mays said about Trump’s trade policy. “Some of our farmers could be hurt… But overall I’m supportive of the president. I think it’s a policy that’s evolving and it’s too soon to take a hard stand on it.”

Mays’ lobbying clients during the most recent legislative session included Allstate Insurance, the Cigar Association of America and Loanmax.

He said that his kids now own the Mays Group Lobbying firm and downplayed his role, but he was registered with Kansas secretary of state’s office until Tuesday.

“I suppose some people might try to make it an issue. But I’m an honest person. I operate with the facts, not fiction. And I was brought up to believe all work is honorable,” Mays said. “Being a lobbyist in Topeka is a whole lot different than being a lobbyist in D.C. It’s more about providing information. That’s always been the way I’ve done things.”

Republicans have held the 2nd District since 2009, when Jenkins first took office, but Davis' strong fundraising numbers and name recognition as a former candidate for governor have raised fears among Republicans that the seat could shift to Democratic hands in 2018.

The Republican field includes three current members of the Legislature: Sen. Steve Fitzgerald of Leavenworth, Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker and Rep. Kevin Jones of Wellsville.

Tyson has more than $300,000 cash on hand, but more than $150,000 of that came from a loan she made to her own campaign.

Fitzgerald, who has repeatedly called on other Republican candidates in the race to drop out, has loaned himself $200,000 and has about that much in his campaign coffers as of his April campaign finance report. He has also raised more than $100,000, but has spent money at a faster rate than Tyson.

Jones has struggled to raise money and has less than $50,000 in his campaign coffers.

Political newcomer Steve Watkins has raised roughly $85,000 and loaned his GOP campaign more than $175,000.