Erin Davis’ profile on the business social network LinkedIn notes that she works as a senior government strategist for North Kansas City-based Cerner Corporation. And above that, it lists another title that makes her name recognizable to Olathe residents: She’s state representative for Kansas’ 15th District.
Her district is just a 20-minute drive down Interstate 435 from the futuristic Cerner Continuous Campus in Kansas City, Kan., at Village West. Does that mean Davis has an automatic conflict of interest in Topeka?
Davis’ situation is far from unique, of course, because Kansas legislators are effectively moonlighters. Most hold down outside jobs during the roughly eight months of the year that they are out of session.
Kansas is among the 14 states with the smallest legislative staffs and lowest pay, according to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures — though plenty of us wouldn’t turn up our noses at $88.66 per day plus a $140 per diem, even for just one-third of the year.
… John Vratil, a lawyer and former state senator, noted that conflicts of interest can be complex and difficult to identify. “It’s a lot more than just having two similar interests,” he said.
In a statement, Davis denied an ethical issue: “As with all legislators who have employers outside of the Legislature, the legislative rules allow for a member to abstain from a vote that could present a conflict.” Her assignment covers the northeastern U.S. “Kansas is not part of my territory.”
“Our founders never intended for our Legislature to be comprised of career politicians,” she said. And she’s right that the citizen legislature model has particular merits, especially in a state as rural as Kansas. …
If we take Davis at her word about abstaining where Cerner could stand to gain from her putting a thumb on the scale, the onus would still be on her fellow legislators to keep alert for any remote whiff of impropriety. …
“I suppose all we can do is wait to see what she does,” said Vratil.
We would prefer not to suffer through the suspense. …
The Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission should flex its oversight muscle by initiating an investigation now. Kansans deserve direct answers. Public trust is at stake.
— The Kansas City Star