When Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., decided to keep his promise to serve only two terms, it set off a historic chain reaction of change and fueled concern that the Kansas delegation was about to lose its clout. Four of the state’s six seats in Congress just changed hands, as the average age of the state’s House delegation dropped from 56 to 42. What a huge relief then that the state scored assignments last week for three powerful committees in the newly GOP-led House.
Two-term Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, will join the House Committee on Ways and Means — only the ninth Kansan to ever sit on the tax-writing panel.
As impressive, two Kansans were among the 11 freshmen tapped for spots on prime committees: Rep.-elect Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, for the Energy and Commerce Committee and Rep.-elect Kevin Yoder, R-Overland Park, for a scaled-back Appropriations Committee.
In a statement about his plum assignment, Pompeo vowed to “fight to open markets for the aviation industry in Kansas, preserve telecommunications competition, repeal Obamacare and secure America’s energy future” — all issues of high interest to the 4th Congressional District voters who sent the former CEO to Capitol Hill.
Yoder’s role will be more tricky. The 34-year-old wunderkind succeeding the retiring Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa, is well-suited to the assignment, having chaired the Appropriations Committee in the Kansas House. But where Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Goddard, used his Appropriations seat to unapologetically keep defense dollars and other federal largesse flowing to the 4th District, Yoder must be mindful of voters’ sharp disdain for earmarks and high expectations that spending and deficits will shrink.
In any case, the roles chosen for Pompeo, Yoder and Jenkins reflect well on them, as well as on the voters who sent them to Congress.
In addition, Kansans should be able to expect impressive results from Sen.-elect Jerry Moran, R-Kan., based on his hard work and pragmatic voting record during 14 years in the U.S. House and eight years in the Kansas Senate. And in Rep.-elect Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, 1st District voters have a new congressman known for his strong opinions and willingness to step out front on issues.
True, since 1996 Kansas has yet to see the rise of another Bob Dole, whose record 11 years as the Republican leader in the Senate included 3½ as majority leader and helped make him a powerful, agenda-setting national figure.
But as Tiahrt proved with his early success fighting the Wright amendment and appointment to the Appropriations Committee, influence need not depend on longevity or even committee chairmanships.
And talk of Kansas’ clout in Washington, D.C., should not discount the state’s two integral members of the Obama Cabinet: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who stepped down as Kansas governor to take the job, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a native Wichitan who has served eight presidents.
All in all, in the coming year, Kansans are well-positioned to make a mark in the 112th Congress and, it follows, the nation. That’s good news for Kansas.