Leaving House, Watkins will be Wichita Chamber's lobbyist in Topeka

Jason Watkins, who leaves his seat in the Kansas Legislature on Sunday, has been named director of government relations for the Wichita Metro Chamber of Commerce.

Watkins, 37, an alarm company owner who will step down from his post representing Kansas House District 105, will begin Monday as the chamber's new lobbyist in the Kansas Legislature.

"I went to Topeka five years ago to work on business issues, and that's been my primary focus," Watkins said Friday.

"Since leaving the Legislature, this seemed like a really good fit. I get to advocate on business issues and continue to work to make the state a better place to own and operate a business and take advantage of my experience."

Watkins served as vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and chaired the general government budget panel, along with having a seat on the judiciary committee.

"Having Jason on the ground and meeting our delegation in Topeka is important," said Bryan Derreberry, the chamber's president and chief executive.

"It's great, very unique to be able to get someone who's got Jason's legislative background and connections, but also a business background, too. It's a winning combination."

Watkins assumes the role filled last session by a contract lobbyist. Longtime chamber lobbyist Bernie Koch's position was eliminated a year ago.

"No. 1, we have someone in Jason who understands south-central Kansas and Wichita intimately," Derreberry said. "That's invaluable.

"It's hard to lobby for multiple individuals. Some are very good at it, but I'm excited that we've gotten in lock, stock and barrel. Jason will represent our business community and do it in a way that demonstrates his knowledge of the community."

The 2010 legislative session will be critical for Wichita businesses in a tight revenue year, Derreberry said.

"The groundswell of the legislative session we're coming up on is to increase taxes," he said. "We know that runs counter to what we need in a business environment for our members to recover and grow.

"Jason will be a part of an important business community front in the Legislature. Let's think about the environment we're in and what we can do to assure that we're giving businesses the best chance to recover and rehire workers."