In November 2008 Lynn Jenkins flipped a seat in the United States House from northeast Kansas—one of only four Republicans that year to defeat a Democratic incumbent.1 After Republicans regained control of the House two years later, Jenkins won a seat on the influential Ways and Means Committee and rose through the ranks to become vice chair of the Republican Conference. “If we want our economy to recover and our nation to prosper once again, we have to stop taking so much away and give decisions back to the people,” she said. “Instead of politicians in Washington pretending to know what’s best, let the people decide for themselves.”2
Lynn Jenkins was born Lynn Haag on June 10, 1963, in Holton, Kansas, to Gale and Dixie Haag.3 A sixth generation Kansan, Jenkins grew up on a dairy farm milking cows before and after school each day.4 After graduating from Holton High School in 1981, she studied at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, before continuing her studies at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1985. While completing her studies, she married Scott Jenkins, who grew up on a farm down the road from her own. The couple raised two children, Haley and Haden, and settled in Topeka, where Jenkins, a licensed CPA, worked as an accountant. Jenkins and her husband divorced in 2009.5
Jenkins’s political philosophy took shape as she grew up in rural northeast Kansas. “My upbringing on the farm in a very conservative community shaped my political views that government can’t solve all the problems that good, hard-working Kansans can,” she later reflected. Jenkins often volunteered for local Republican candidates during election season by campaigning door to door and stuffing envelopes. In 1997, when her state representative resigned, Jenkins ran in the special election to fill the seat but lost by a single vote.6 Undiscouraged, she ran in the 1998 general election and won. After serving one term in the state house, she won a seat in the state senate. She resigned halfway through her state senate term to serve as Kansas state treasurer, where she worked to cut taxes, limit spending, and return millions of dollars in unclaimed property to state residents.7
In 2008 Jenkins entered the race to challenge one-term Democratic incumbent Nancy Boyda for a seat in the U.S. House from Kansas’s Second District. In the primary, Jenkins faced former Representative Jim Ryun, who had lost to Boyda two years earlier. Although Ryun had a significant fundraising advantage, Jenkins campaigned on her career as an accountant, promising to “restore fiscal order” in Washington.8 Tax policy featured prominently in the primary, and Jenkins won the nomination with just over 50 percent of the vote.9
In the general election, Jenkins pledged to abolish the federal estate tax, arguing that it placed undue hardship on Kansas families when they passed farms on to the next generation. She also promised to limit targeted outlays in federal appropriations bills known as earmarks.10 On Election Day, in a district where Republicans outnumbered Democrats three to two, Jenkins defeated Boyda with a 13,000 vote majority.11 “I think we had the right message at the right time,” Jenkins said after her victory. “Washington is a mess, and people are fed up and hungry for reform.”12 Jenkins won re-election easily in her next four races.13
Jenkins’s experience as an accountant and state treasurer earned her a seat on the Financial Services Committee during her first term in the House. In January 2009 Jenkins also became one of few first-term lawmakers selected to join party leadership as an Assistant Whip. In her second term, Jenkins won a seat on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over America’s tax policy. She remained on Ways and Means for the rest of her House career.14
From the start, Jenkins decried what she considered excessive federal spending. Shortly after the House approved a $3.6 trillion budget in April 2009, Jenkins was the first freshman chosen by the Republican Party to deliver a response to President Barack Obama’s weekly radio address. “Washington’s books are a mess,” she declared. “[We] can’t spend our way back to prosperity.”15
After securing a spot on the Ways and Means Committee, Jenkins worked to pass tax cuts for families who invested in 529 college-savings plans, a program that she helped expand in Kansas as state treasurer. Starting in her second term, Jenkins reserved the bill number H.R. 529 each Congress for her legislation that provided tax deductions for families who invested money to pay for educational expenses.16 She also worked to end the federal inheritance tax by cosponsoring the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015. “I understand that the only certainties in life are death and taxes,” she said. “Unfortunately, Washington has decided that a third certainty can be created when we combine those two separate terms.” The measure passed the House but faltered in the Senate.17
From the Ways and Means Committee, Jenkins also helped pass the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a major tax overhaul that largely lowered income tax rates for businesses and individuals.18
While serving on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade, Jenkins sought to reduce tariffs, which she said provided farmers and manufacturers in her district with expanded market access. She also supported free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia, which became law in 2011. “It’s been five years in the making, but we are finally here,” Jenkins said shortly before the trade pacts passed.19
From her seat on the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, Jenkins pursued policies to reduce regulations on rural hospitals. Under rules set by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), doctors were required to supervise outpatient procedures, such as addiction counseling and blood transfusions. Jenkins argued that the regulations stretched the limited resources of rural medical providers in her state and forced patients to travel farther to receive care. In a series of measures, Jenkins managed to delay the new CMS requirements from 2014 through 2017. She also enacted provisions that allow physician assistants to provide hospice care through Medicare and to supervise heart and lung rehabilitation programs without a doctor present.20
Towards the end of her second term, Jenkins was elected vice chair of the Republican Conference, the GOP’s organization in the House which sets the party’s agenda. She sought the leadership position after a discussion with Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio about the party’s need to connect with women voters. “They weren’t talking to women’s hearts,” Jenkins said. As vice chair, she served as an intermediary between rank-and-file Members and party leadership, often appearing next to Speaker Boehner during press conferences.21 She remained in the position until 2016.22
As a member of the Republican leadership, Jenkins tried to find a balance between the ideological wings of her party. In 2010 she was a founding member of the Tea Party Caucus, which advocated for deep spending cuts and smaller government. Three years later she also joined the Problem Solvers Caucus, made up of Republicans and Democrats, which sought bipartisan solutions to difficult legislative issues. In October 2013, during a two-week government shutdown over certain provisions in the Affordable Care Act, Jenkins repeatedly voted with Democrats to pass funding measures to open the government. “Talking across the aisle is the only way we can solve the great challenges threatening the livelihood of Americans and their families,” she said.23
Working with her female Republican colleagues, such as Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, Jenkins helped lead Republican efforts to recruit conservative women to run for office. “I’m embarrassed to say that I had to be asked to run for office,” she told a journalist.24 “The challenge we face is encouraging more women to put themselves forward.”25
In January 2017, Jenkins announced that she would retire from public life and return to the private sector rather than seek re-election to another term in 2018. Two months before the end of her last session, she created her own political consulting firm, LJ Strategies, based in Topeka, Kansas.26
1“Lynn Jenkins (R-Kan),” accessed 11 September 2019, Who Runs Gov? (blog), Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/lynn-jenkins-r-kan/gIQA8hpUAP_print.html.
2Scott Rothschild, “Jenkins Challenged in Newly Configured 2nd District,” 28 October 2012, Lawrence Journal-World (KS), https://www2.ljworld.com/news/2012/oct/28/jenkins-challenged-newly-configured-2nd-district/.
3J. R. Mendoza, “The Race for the Treasurer,” 20 October 2002, Topeka Capital-Journal: E1.
4Politics in America, 2010 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly Inc., 2009): 410; Politics in America, 2014 (Washington, DC: CQ-Roll Call, Inc., 2013): 397.
5Peter Hancock, “Lynn Jenkins, Part of GOP Leadership, Seeking Fourth Term in U.S. House,” 26 September 2014, Lawrence Journal-World, https://www2.ljworld.com/news/2014/sep/26/jenkins-part-gop-leadership-seeking-fourth-term-us/; Politics in America, 2014: 396, 397; Mendoza, “The Race for the Treasurer”; Barbara Hollingsworth, “Jenkins’ Husband Files for Divorce,” 11 November 2008, Topeka Capital-Journal: 1.
6Mendoza, “The Race for the Treasurer”; Sean Lengell, “Q&A: Lynn Jenkins on the Lame Duck, Women in Politics—and Beer,” 17 November 2014, Washington Examiner: n.p.; “Primary Battle forthcoming in 52nd,” 29 May 1998, Topeka Capital-Journal: n.p.
7Dion Lefler, “State Treasurer Has Surprise for Club,” 19 July 2003, Wichita Eagle: 1A; Hancock, “Lynn Jenkins, Part of GOP Leadership, Seeking Fourth Term in U.S. House”; Anna Staatz, “Treasure-trove Awaits Owners,” 25 December 2006, Topeka Capital-Journal: 1.
8Ken Newton, “Jim Ryun, Lynn Jenkins Square Off in Kansas Congressional Race,” 2 August 2008, St. Joseph News-Press (MO): n.p.; John Milburn, “GOP Jenkins Seeks Third Term in Kan. 2nd District,” 27 July 2012, Associated Press.
9David Klepper, “U.S. House, District 2: Jenkins, Ryun vie to face Boyda,” 30 July 2008, Kansas City Star: 2; Almanac of American Politics, 2010 (Washington, DC: National Journal Group, 2009): 611; Kansas secretary of state, “2008 Primary Election Official Vote Totals,” accessed 13 September 2019, https://www.kssos.org/elections/08elec/2008ElectionOfficialVoteTotals.pdf.
10Lydia Gensheimer, “111th House Freshmen: Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan,” 5 November 2008, CQ Today.
11John Milburn, “Boyda, Jenkins face off in Kan. 2nd District,” 25 September 2008, Associated Press; Office of the Clerk, U.S. House of Representatives, “Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
12David Klepper et al., “Jenkins Unseats Boyda; Moore, Roberts Re-elected,” 5 November 2008, Kansas City Star: 1.
13“Election Statistics, 1920 to Present.”
14“Jenkins Named to Republican Whip Team,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 15 January 2009, https://web.archive.org/web/20090902230056/http://www.jenkins.house.gov/index.cfm?sectionid=22&parentid=21§iontree=21,22&itemid=84.
15Steve Fry, “Jenkins Rips Stimulus Package,” 2 May 2009, Topeka Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com/article/20090502/NEWS/305029893.
16Kathy Chu, “States Give Tax Breaks to College Savers,” 14 September 2006, USA Today: 1B; James Carlson, “College Savings Dwindles,” 19 October 2019, Topeka Capital-Journal: 1A; Steve Rosen, “A Plan to Reward Families Saving for College,” 11 April 2014, Kansas City Star: n.p.; Jonathan Shorman, “Obama Proposing College Affordability Changes Ahead of KU Visit,” 20 January 2015, Topeka Capital-Journal: n.p.; H.R. 529, 112th Cong. (2011). Jenkins reintroduced similar legislation under the bill number H.R. 529 in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses.
17Congressional Record, House, 114th Cong., 1st sess. (16 April 2015): 5120; Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015, H.R. 1105, 114th Cong. (2015).
18“Congresswoman Jenkins Supports House Tax Reform Legislation,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 16 November 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20180918170634/https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/congresswoman-jenkins-supports-house-tax-reform-legislation/.
19“Trade Agreements Pass the House of Representatives,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 12 October 2011, https://web.archive.org/web/20160913223002/https://lynnjenkins.house.gov/2011-press-releases/trade-agreements-pass-the-house-of-representatives1/; Binyamin Appelbaum and Jennifer Steinhauer, “Trade Deals Pass Congress, Ending 5-Year Standoff,” 13 October 2011, New York Times: A1.
20“Congress Approves Six Jenkins Priorities Benefiting Kansans,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 9 February 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180918154456/https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/congress-approves-six-jenkins-priorities-benefiting-kansans/; “President Signs Jenkins, Moran Rural Health Legislation Into Law,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 4 December 2014, https://web.archive.org/web/20180923090621/https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/president-signs-jenkins-moran-rural-health-legislation-into-law/; “Three Rep. Jenkins Bills Signed Into Law,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 13 December 2016, https://web.archive.org/ web/20180918233701/https://jenkins.house.gov//press-releases/three-rep-jenkins-bills-signed-into-law/.
21Politics in America, 2014: 396; “Jenkins Elected as House Republican Conference Vice Chair,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 14 November 2012, https://web.archive.org/web/20180924145135/https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/jenkins-elected-as-house-republican-conference-vice-chair1/; “Jenkins Moves up Ladder,” 12 March 2013, Topeka Capital Journal: C7; Hancock, “Lynn Jenkins, Part of GOP Leadership, Seeking Fourth Term in U.S. House.”
22John Hanna, “Jenkins Exits US House Leadership, May Mull Governor’s Race,” 16 November 2016, Associated Press, https://apnews.com/4d4ed5ba04 0645f5a06aece919194bad.
23Hancock, “Lynn Jenkins, Part of GOP Leadership, Seeking Fourth Term in U.S. House”; Lynn Jenkins, “Congresswoman Jenkins Joins the No Labels Problem Solvers Group to Build Trust Across the Aisle,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 14 January 2013, https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/congresswoman-jenkins-joins-the-no-labels-problem-solvers-group-to-build-trust-across-the-aisle/; Peter Hancock, “Jenkins Meets with Diverse Groups during Recess Tour of Her District,” 29 August 2013, Lawrence Journal World: n.p.; John P. Avlon, “The Stand-Out Centrists of 2008,” 26 October 2008, Politico, https://www.politico.com/story/2008/10/the-stand-out-centrists-of-2008-014954.
24Lengell, “Q&A: Lynn Jenkins on the Lame Duck, Women in Politics—and Beer”; “House GOP Women Gamble in Florida Special,” 6 January 2014, Congressional Quarterly News.
25“Congresswoman Jenkins Delivers Weekly Republican Address,” official website of Representative Lynn Jenkins, press release, 12 March 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20180919071701/https://jenkins.house.gov/press-releases/congresswoman-jenkins-delivers-weekly-republican-address/.
26Simone Pathé, “Lynn Jenkins Won’t Seek Any Political Office in 2018,” 25 January 2017, Roll Call, https://www.rollcall.com/2017/01/25/lynn-jenkins-wont-seek-any-political-office-in-2018/; Bryan Lowry and Jonathan Shorman, “Lynn Jenkins Sets Up Lobbying Business—But She’s Still a Kansas Congresswoman,” 7 December 2018, McClatchy Washington Bureau.