Kansas Second Congressional District Representative Steve Watkins appears to be accomplishing an agenda despite his freshman status in Congress.
Watkins’ bulldog mentality of putting the needs of Kansans first was on display in the opening 100 days of his term. Watkins co-sponsored 100 pieces of legislation, introduced three bills and had one bill signed into law.
“These are very well vetted and consistent of what Kansans want,” Watkins said. “We have been aggressive the first 100 days. The Kansas Second belongs to the people of Kansas. It is my job to work with integrity, wisdom, enthusiasm and passion.”
Watkins visited Ottawa Tuesday and met with local organizations and groups including the Ottawa Area Chamber of Commerce and the East Central Kansas Economic Opportunity Corporation [ECKAN].
Watkins dove head first into the position in January after replacing the retiring Lynn Jenkins.
“I love the job,” he said. “It is so honorable. I want Kansans to know I work for them. It has been a great 100 days, characterized by tons of hard work.”
That work included learning the congress ional system. Watkins said working with seasoned members of Congress can be difficult.
“It takes connecting with individuals, really learning where they are coming from,” Watkins said. “Those connections have been happening. It is not easy. Anything worthwhile won’t be easy. The difficulty in advancing the agenda is formidable as well as it is appropriate to be. There is a natural freshmen vetting.”
Watkins said Sen. Pat Roberts, who is retiring after the 2020 session with more than 40 years in public office, mentored the rookie politician.
“Pat has grown to be an awesome mentor,” Watkins said. “He gives it to me straight. It has been great.”
The Congressmen joined forces on legislation — ECORA — which is Enhanced Credit Opportunities in Rural America. Watkins said HR bill 1872 aims to decrease costs of agricultural or residential loans to consumers in rural America.
“It makes the cost of lending cheaper,” he said. “It does so by not taxing the bank’s interest. It is designed to spur economic activity in small towns of 25,000 people or less. If [it] passes, a ton of communities will be able to [take advantage]. My hope is to revitalize their economies, rebuild rural communities. When I am whipping support for a bill on the floor, it is me going out and telling people about it. With ECORA, I have members of Congress coming to me saying, ‘I have heard about this. What is it about?’ That is big.
“On the Senate side, Pat Roberts is introducing a Senate version.”
Watkins used his people and leadership skills to work with legislators. He is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus.
“It is a bipartisan caucus that gets together once a week to talk about the affairs of the day,” Watkins said. “It is very frank and honest. It is a cohort of like-minded people that don’t check their beliefs at the door, but they realize in order to advance legislation, it ought to be bipartisan. I work across the aisle every opportunity I get.”
Watkins met with ECKAN representatives to learn about the organization’s programs. Richard Jackson, CEO of ECKAN, explained their organization and asked for his support on bill HR 1695, which is the Community Services Block Grant Reauthorization Act of 2019.
Watkins said he would do what he could to help Community Action Programs like ECKAN. Jackson said a couple of things that need attention from federal officials is reducing the cost of health care and prescriptions.
“Health care has always needed some tweaks,” Jackson said. “We have some people that don’t have any insurance and those folks are working one or two jobs.”
Watkins said the issue will be tough to solve overnight.
“The health care industry is large and complex collection of systems,” he said. “We will have those debates. Government owes America a better system than what we currently have. I am a free market guy. I believe the health care system ought to be built on a platform of capitalism characterized by transparency and competition. That is how we get affordable health care.
“It is something I had hoped we would address already in the first 100 days. It is talked about a lot on Capital Hill. It is a bipartisan issue. Competition will lower prices. We owe the country a better plan.”
Watkins said without a super majority supporting legislation, it will be hard to pass any health care initiative.
“It almost requires a very decisive and super majority in order for there to be a systematic change,” Watkins said. “If there was an easy fix [to health care], we would have thought about it and implemented it. These are complex issues and it takes competent people in Washington with their ear to Main Street.”
Watkins spent time talking to second district voters in the first 100 days, traveling 25,000 miles from Washington to Kansas. He said the top three issues of Kansans are health care, immigration, jobs and the economy.
“I am a ‘build the wall guy,’” he said. “I [was] a combat engineer in the Army. It works.”
Watkins said the immigration problems along the border is real.
“We have an emergency at our border,” he said. “People are pouring over. It is not safe and right. We need safe immigration and it needs to be legal.”
Watkins said the government shutdown — that permeated the first half of those 100 days — was a hot issue.
“What we have is a situation that has been postponed, but not solved,” he said. “The Federal Government is part of [people’s] life blood. It matters to people. Policy makers need to remember that.”
He said education and labor need to work together to provide more technical job opportunities. He said business owners and managers throughout the Second District have workforce problems.
“In education and labor — one of my three committees — we are working to expand trade schools, vocational and technical education experience,” Watkins said. “We want to make those poplar again.”
Watkins said Kansans can count on him to put their interests above anything else.
“We work for you,” he said. “We will advocate for whatever we can. I am willing to go and do what it takes. I want to bring my ‘A’ game. You do what you think is right at the end of the