US House Races/Kansas

Report by Bruce Driver from Indivisible North Boulder.

Kansas District 2:

Candidates are Paul Davis (D) and Steve Watkins (R). This is an open seat.   

Davis touts himself as a centrist who will pattern his campaign after Conor Lamb’s in Pennsylvania.   Davis has been a partner in a Kansas law firm and was a Member of the Kansas House of Representatives from 2003-2015, rising to the post of Minority Leader.   He ran for Governor against Sam Brownback in 2014 but lost narrowly. He has a B.A. from Kansas University. His law degree is from Washburn University. His website does not state positions on all key issues.   Here is what it says on some of them. (1) Taxes: He says he voted to cut taxes when he was in the state House 150 times, led the charges against the “disastrous Brownback tax experiment” and opposes the federal tax-cut bill of 2017 as simply transporting Brownback’s failed policies to Congress; (2) Spending: He sounds like a spending hawk, but his website contains no specifics; (3) Reform: DC is broken by obscene amounts of money pouring into candidates by millionaire donors, and he wants more transparency but he fails to spell out what measures he supports; (4) National security/Immigration: Says he wants common-sense immigration reform without betraying founding ideals and without ripping families apart; (5) Jobs/economy: best left to the states but the feds can help make college more affordable; (6) Healthcare: fix Obamacare, make sure to keep prohibition against non-coverage of pre-existing conditions; (7) Education: He says he is a steadfast supporter of public education, citing his record in the state House.   He will not vote for Pelosi. Davis may not be a progressive, but in the Kansas context, he is an excellent candidate. He is well-known, well-liked, respected generally and knows how to raise money. He had $942,000 in cash on hand in mid-July. His major contributors by sector include: Retired, Lawyers/Law firms; Education; Democratic/Liberal; and Leadership PACs.

Watkins is an engineering and business consultant.  He was a Captain and Airborne Ranger in the U.S. Army and contractor with DOD in Iraq, Afghanistan and Central Asia.   He has a B.S. in Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and masters degrees from MIT and Harvard. He has climbed on Mt. Everest and been a dog musher in the Iditarod, all of which may make him an interesting person, even if he is a political novice.   He won his primary with 26% of the vote in a 7-candidate field. His website discussion of the issues is rudimentary and with little specificity. He is pro-life, opposes Obamacare and “burdensome regulations” on business. He wants to assure that the workforce has the skills needed to meet the jobs of tomorrow.   He wants to stop illegal immigration, stands against any attempt to weaken constitutional protections for gun-owners, will work across the aisle to protect Medicare and Social Security and is against the spiraling national debt. In an interview he said he is a “free-market guy,” does not like the Trump tariffs and supports “Christian Republicanism.”   He was challenged in his primary on the grounds that he has no political experience, his father made a $100,000 contribution to a PAC that supports him and that he had talked to Democrats about running as a D—he concedes that he met with Ds but denies he talked about running as one of them. He had $125,000 cash on hand in mid-July. His major contributors by sector are: Health Professionals (his father is a physician); Retired; General Contractors; Lawyers/Law Firms and Education.

Description of District  This district is the eastern roughly one-fifth of the state, but it does not include Kansas City, Kansas.   It borders Nebraska to the North, Missouri to the East and Oklahoma to the South and includes Topeka (state capitol) and Lawrence, home of Kansas University.   It is 89% White, 5% Black, 1% Asian, 4% Hispanic and 1% Native American. It has an HMI of $52,000 and a PVI of R+10, and Trump beat Hillary by 19%. Cook says it is “lean R.”  How can it possibly be competitive, given its PVI, 2016 results and that this is Kansas? First, the incumbent R is not running this fall and, second, the D candidate, described below, is strong, well-known and had no primary competition.   

Summary: Davis is an experienced centrist-D with a real chance to win this seat.   Watkins is a bit of a mystery. I watched a TV interview of him. He speaks well, seems intelligent and has his right-wing talking points down pat, but with few details.   He looks like a strapping Kansas farmboy. If he can develop his message and get it out, he could be trouble for Davis, although Davis has about 7.5 times the amount of cash on hand and much more political experience.   This is one to watch.

Kansas District 3:

Candidates are Kevin Yoder (incumbent R) and Sharice Davids (D)

Yoder is a four-term incumbent in the U.S. House of Representatives and, before that, a four-term Member of the Kansas House.   He won his 3-candidate primary with 68% of the vote. He has been a partner in a law firm since 2005 and was a Special Assistant in the Office of Counter-narcotics in the DOD.   His positions appear malleable. According to an article in the Kansas City Star, he was a liberal when he was Kansas University student body president, turned traditional conservative when the Tea Party and other fellow-travelers gained power in Kansas and then became a loyal Trumpist after 2016.   His website on the issues is less than rudimentary. He says he wants to cut taxes, favors local control of education, wants to ban pay increases for Members of Congress but favors increasing background checks upon firearm purchases. His votes are a better indication of his present positions. He was a “yea” vote for: (1) declaring that a carbon tax would be a detriment to the U.S. economy; (2) authorizing title transfer of non-hydro Bureau of Reclamation projects in the West; (3) suspending temporarily ESA protections on the Columbia River; (4) Dodd-Frank amendments; (5) hypocritically, a Balanced Budget amendment to the Constitution while also for the tax-cut and Omnibus spending bills; (6) concealed-carry reciprocity; (7) delaying federal ozone standards and overriding Obama’s stream protection rule; (8) repealing Obamacare; and (9) for stripping the EPA Science Board of some scientists.   He was one of 3 Members in the House to vote against sanctions against Russia. He voted with Trump 91% of the time. He had a whopping $1.8 million cash on hand in mid-July. (It helps that he is on the Appropriations Committee.) His major contributors by interest group include: Leadership PACs; Securities and Investment; Real Estate; Lawyers/law Firms; and Banks.

Davids, a Native American lawyer, works with tribes to create development opportunities.   She has been a White House Fellow and was the Deputy Director of the Thunder Valley Community Corporation on the Pine Ridge reservation.   She has a B.A. in Business Adminitration from the University of Kansas, Kansas City and a law degree from Cornell. She won her primary of six candidates with 37% of the vote.   She appears to be a cautious progressive. From her website: (1) Taxes: She disapproves of the R tax-cut bill from 2017 and wants a “true middle class tax cut,” including a small business standard deduction; (2) Education: Her focus is mostly on people who do not go to college and who need trades and technical training, but she also wants student loan forgiveness for those who enter public service; (3) Healthcare: She wants to expand Medicare, but is “not there yet” on Medicare for All;  (4) Guns: Treat it as the public health problem it is; expand background checks and implement higher standards for concealed-carry permits (but nothing about assault weapons); (5) Environment: Climate change is real and we need to act immediately (but she does not say how); she supports tax policies to encourage transition to renewable energy; will work to expand Kansas’s commitment to wind energy and she says she will fight against dismantling the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act; (6) Immigration: She wants comprehensive reform (but does not spell out the details); we must protect DACA recipients; and (7) Equal Rights: She’ll combat voter restrictions and push for federal legislation to protect the LGBTQ community (she is a Lesbian).   She had $128,000 cash on hand in mid-July. Her major contributors by interest include: Retired; Law firms; Women’s issues; Gambling/Casinos; and Democratic/Liberal orgs. She received a very large contribution from Emily’s list.

Description of the district This is Kansas City, Kansas, and the metro area plus suburbs such as Overland Park and Shawnee.   It has a PVI of R+4. Hillary beat Trump by 1% in 2016. Cook says that this district “leans R” this fall.   It is 83% White, 9% Black, 3% Asian and 7% Hispanic. The Census Bureau does not report an HMI for this district.   Wikipedia reports an HMI of $51,000, but this might be outdated or unadjusted for inflation. In terms of its voting patterns and ethnic make-up, District 3 does not look much like an urban district, but it is, increasingly so.

Summary: Can a Native American Lesbian win a Kansas district against an entrenched white-guy, right-wing Member of House Appropriations who has 14 times the cash on hand than she does?   Yes, she can, but it will be an uphill fight. Kansas City, Kansas is a city with a substantial and growing minority population; Davids is smart, a good speaker, a fighter and no “radical;” Yoder is seen as a “fraud” by some for his twists and turns on the issues over time.   But she needs financial help in a big way.