Kansas Democrats launch nonprofit to drive turnout for progressive candidates, issues

Organization modeled on work of Fair Fight Action in Georgia

Former U.S. Senate nominee Barbara Bollier formed the nonprofit Prairie Roots to work statewide on driving voter turnout in support of progressive candidates and issues. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)
Former U.S. Senate nominee Barbara Bollier formed the nonprofit Prairie Roots to work statewide on driving voter turnout in support of progressive candidates and issues. (Submitted/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Three Kansas Democrats formed the nucleus of a new nonprofit providing financial, strategic and logistical support for a year-round volunteer operation that reaches out to low-turnout voters in support of progressive candidates and issues.

Former U.S. Senate candidate Barbara Bollier, Overland Park state Rep. Brett Parker and former Kansas Democratic Party campaign director Peyton Browning make up the core of Prairie Roots. The Kansas organization is modeled on Fair Fight Action, a voting rights group credited with an important role in Georgia’s last election cycle.

“To live up to our history as the Free State, we need to ensure that Kansas is a place where every voice is heard, all are welcome and everyone can thrive. Kansans need politics that reflect their values,” said Parker, who agreed to serve as executive director of Prairie Roots.

Overland Park Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, at center in glasses, plans to resign from the Kansas House to serve as executive director of Prairie Roots, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive candidates and issues. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Overland Park Democratic Rep. Brett Parker, at center in glasses, plans to resign from the Kansas House to serve as executive director of Prairie Roots, a nonprofit dedicated to progressive candidates and issues. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Parker, who represents a Overland Park district, plans to resign from the Kansas House so a replacement could take on those duties ahead of the 2022 legislative session.

Bollier, a former state House and Senate member and the 2020 Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, will chair the nonprofit’s board of directors. Browning will be the organization’s director of initiatives and operations.

Other members of the Prairie Roots board include Wichita state Rep. Gail Finney and Democratic National Committeewoman Usha Reddi of Manhattan as well as community organizer Aron Johnson and United Food & Commercial Workers Local No. 2 political director Monica Vargas-Huertas in Wichita.

“I’m incredibly proud to be working with some of the top young minds of Kansas Democratic politics to build a grassroots community of organizers in our state,” Bollier said.

She said dedication of Stacey Abrams, who founded Fair Fight Action in 2018 to address voter suppression in Georgia, demonstrated the potential of statewide organizing. Fair Fight was credited with boosting voter turnout in Georgia during the 2020 presidential election and the 2020-2021 U.S. Senate campaigns.

“If leaders like Stacey Abrams have proved anything,” Bollier said, “it’s that financial and logistical investment in organizing and voter mobilization in any state — no matter how much of an uphill battle that might have been in the past — can lead to historic change.”

“I’m excited to take the energy I saw from voters involved in my own race and turn that into positive, generational change here in Kansas,” Bollier said.

Parker said an objective of Prairie Roots, the newly formed 501(c)(4), would be to create a centralized volunteer organization for community organizing and canvassing across Kansas. He indicated issues of health care and voting rights would be key issues of interest.

Mike Kuckelman, chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, said Democrats are too “out of step” with most Kansans for this new group to make a difference.

He said he was encouraged by the results last November, when Republicans won a supermajority of legislative seats in both chambers, and that he was confident the party would regain control of the governor’s office next year.

People are motivated by what they see happening at the national level, Kuckelman said.

“If the Democrats want to pursue this far-left socialist agenda, they’re going to actually have to convert people throughout the entire state, and I just don’t think that’s possible,” Kuckelman said. “These are principled issues that people don’t move easily on, and Kansas overall is a pretty conservative population.”

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.
Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith is the Kansas Press Association’s journalist of the year. He has written award-winning news stories about the instability of the Kansas foster care system, misconduct by government officials, sexual abuse, technology, education, and the Legislature. He previously spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. A lifelong Kansan, he graduated from Emporia State University in 2004 as a Shepherd Scholar with a degree in English.