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Kansas has become the unlikely home of the ‘pink wave’

We are witnessing an incredible transformation of American politics wherein voters are pushing for representation by candidates who are not straight, white men. In fact, so many women are running for office this year that if female candidates won every congressional race they were contesting, the House of Representatives would be majority female for the first time in our nation’s history. It seems that one of the few positive outcomes of disasters that have plagued the US, such as the election of Donald Trump and the sexual assault epidemic, is that social progress in America has been greatly accelerated. America is becoming more inclusive and open-minded, even in conservative states like Kansas.

Kansas has been historically a ruby red state―and I’m not just referencing the Wizard of Oz. The Republican Party has mostly dominated Kansas politically since its statehood in 1861. But with the 2018 midterm elections quickly approaching, there are some indications that a blue wave might even wash over the landlocked state.

Elections for some of the most important offices in Kansas are being contested by women, which may seem surprising, particularly for such a conservative state. However, this push for female representation is merely a product of the progressive transformation of American politics in recent years.

In the third district of Kansas, Sharice Davids is running against incumbent Congressman Kevin Yoder for the US House of Representatives. Davids was raised by a single mother and attended Johnson County Community College (JCCC) in Overland Park, Kansas. While Davids is not from Kansas, she forged strong ties to the third district after attending JCCC, which gave her the opportunity to go on and receive a Bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC) in 2007 and a Juris Doctor Degree from Cornell Law in 2010. Davids’ primary political experience comes from working in the White House as a Fellow in the Department of Transportation.

In the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary Clinton edged out Donald Trump in Kansas’ 3rd by 1 point despite Barack Obama losing it to Mitt Romney by 8 points in 2012. That makes it one of the few districts in the country where Clinton gained on Obama’s margins, and it proves that Davids has a fighting chance at beating Yoder in the upcoming election. A recent poll from Siena Research, a reputable firm, further confirms this, showing Davids up 8 points over Yoder.

In a live interview on CNN with Chris Cuomo, Davids claims she will work on behalf of the masses, if elected, by listening to their needs and actively representing them in Congress. In another live interview on MSNBC with Chris Hayes, Davids says her priority is offering affordable, quality health care for Kansans in the third district by supporting legislation and initiatives that would expand health care services for all. She also intends to improve public education; her time at JCCC set Davids on the path to success, so she intends on focusing on education to provide similar opportunities to the members of her district.

Not only is Davids an inspiration to larger communities that reach across the nation, but her election would also be historic for Kansas on multiple fronts. She would be the first lesbian Native American, and, in fact, the first female Native American, to have a vote in Congress.

Another heated election taking place in Kansas is the race for the governor’s mansion. Democrat Laura Kelly is running against Republican Kris Kobach.  Normally, statewide races in Kansas aren’t competitive, but the latest poll shows Kelly and Kobach in a dead heat. This is due in part to the unpopularity of Sam Brownback, a Republican who served as Governor from 2010 to 2017. His tenure was marked by economic downturn and spending cuts as a result of misguided tax cuts which led to, among other things, early school closures.

Not helping matters is the additional unpopularity of Kobach, Kansas’ Secretary of State, who has built his career on an erroneous fight against mostly fabricated claims of voter fraud. He only narrowly edged out current Governor Jeff Colyer, who was seen as a more established candidate.

In fact, Kobach is so unpopular that Kelly has been endorsed by all but two of Kansas’ living former Governors, including two Republicans. She has used her platform as the Democratic nominee to emphasize how important it is to have women in positions of leadership. In fact, in a paper published by The Rockefeller Foundation and Global Strategy group, 1 in 4 Americans claim there is not a single woman in a position of power at their current job. However, ⅔ of all Americans believe it is crucial for women starting their careers to have other females in leadership positions to act as role models. With women like Kelly rising through the ranks, this will have a significant role in diversifying the workforce, closing the wage gap, and changing policies.   

Kelly was previously the director of the Kansas Recreation and Park Association and was elected to the Kansas state senate in 2004. She is a confident and well-spoken candidate who would undoubtedly lead the state on a prosperous path, righting the many wrongs of Brownback. She was recruited to run by former Governor Kathleen Sebelius–the last Democrat to hold the office–who said that Kelly can “put together a [winning] coalition,” adding that she can bring “quality and vision to the race that nobody else can.”

In an interview with Mike Shanin from KCPT, Kelly details her priorities as governor if she is to win the election. First, she would focus on education–in stark contrast with Brownback who notoriously neglected education in favor of tax cuts–with an emphasis on early childhood. She understands that education drives economies and would enact the necessary changes to reverse the negative effects brought on by Brownback, re-establishing Kansas’ proud public school system. She would also vote to expand Medicaid, giving 150,000 Kansans access to health care, with particular benefit going to Kansas’ most rural residents.

In the same interview with Shanin, Kelly claims her beliefs are founded in “common sense and no-nonsense.” She prides herself on being able to work across the aisle and marry democratic ideals with conservatives, reaching a realistic compromise beneficial for the people she would serve as governor.

Finally, Democrat Sarah Swain is up against Republican Derek Schmidt for Kansas Attorney General. Schmidt, currently serving as Kansas’ Attorney General, has been endorsed by the NRA and Kansas for Life. It is known that Schmidt does not support same-sex marriage; in addition, he, along with 15 other states, requested that the US Supreme Court legalize firing people for being transgender. It is evident that the conservative values propagated by Schmidt discriminate against marginalized identities, and he is not fit to represent Kansans equally.

Swain, on the other hand, works in service for all the residents of Kansas. She vows to ensure oversight and protection of the people, and she promotes a kind of government founded in inclusivity, transparency, and accountability.  

Swain is a third generation Kansan and graduated from Baker University with a degree in Political Science, going on to earn her Juris Doctor in 2001 from the University of Kansas School of Law. Her career as an attorney began at the Johnson County Public Defender’s Office, and by 2005 she had started her own practice: The Swain Law Office. Swain has been a public defense attorney for nearly two decades, and she is confident in her qualifications to uphold the Kansas constitution and ensure justice.

In an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal, Swain proposes comprehensive criminal justice reform, which includes her priority of reducing the number of people in jail through “sensible and cost-effective measures.” As Attorney General, Swain would also focus on legalizing marijuana and ending the war on drugs. On her official website, Swain elaborates on her plan to create cryptocurrency and blockchain task forces modeled after programs like CFTC and IRS to ensure Kansans are both protected and leaders in the developing world of technology.

All these female candidates are extremely capable and qualified leaders that have the power to improve politics in Kansas. They are also exemplary role models to girls across the nation. In addition, they are giving Kansas the opportunity to be a trailblazer for political feminism.

Clicking her heels three times might have solved Dorothy’s problems, but Davids, Kelly, and Swain have all worked hard for their influential positions of power. Despite the results of the midterm elections, their candidacies are a testament to the progressive path of American politics.

The Kansas City Star – A ‘blue wave’ in red Kansas? Democrats churn, Republicans resist as midterms near

KCUR – Updates On Kansas Governor’s Race

New York Times – Kansas’ 3rd District Poll

Gina Pepitone ’22 is a prospective media studies major with interests in Hispanic studies and cognitive science. She has also written for The Miscellany News and Contrast. 

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