U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids planting roots in gerrymandered district with distinctly rural flavor

Incumbent faces reality of stretching campaign into three GOP-dominated counties

By: - June 30, 2022 9:39 am
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the 3rd District Democrat, speaks to newly acquired constituents in Franklin County as she introduced herself to voters in a district gerrymandered by Republicans to undermine her reelection in 2022. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, the 3rd District Democrat, speaks to newly acquired constituents in Franklin County as she introduced herself to voters in a district gerrymandered by Republicans to undermine her reelection in 2022. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

OTTAWA — U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids had a backdrop of cattle, horses and wide-open spaces while speaking Wednesday night from a farmhouse porch to Franklin County Democrats about forming alliances in the state’s newly gerrymandered 3rd congressional district.

Davids, of course, is seeking reelection in a district dramatically altered from just two years ago, when she thumped Republican Amanda Adkins by 42,000 votes and a 53.6% to 43.5% margin.

The requirement to redraw congressional boundaries in Kansas enabled legislative allies of Adkins, who is taking another shot at Davids, to delete the top half of Democrat-rich Wyandotte County from her district and replace it with Republican-dominant counties of Miami, Anderson and Franklin. It was enough of a swing Davids sought and obtained a seat on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee.

“I want to introduce myself to you all tonight and start building the relationships we’re going to want and also what we’re going to need to have so that we can get our state moving in the best direction for, you know, the kids, the grandkids and those future generations,” she said.

This wasn’t a news conference or photo opportunity near a clogged highway in Johnson County or Kansas City, Kansas. This was an appeal to voters in the quiet, shaded lawn of educators Scott Yeargain and Polly Shteamer off a gravel road southeast of Ottawa. She began speaking to an audience of 90 sitting on folding chairs while they finished potluck dinners. The iced tea and soft drinks were available on a hay wagon.

‘Waves of hope’

Davids talked about being raised by a single mother, Crystal, who was at the event. She chronicled her experiences with college, law school, a White House fellowship and working on tribal issues at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

In 2018, she struggled to recruit a woman in the Democratic Party to challenge GOP incumbent U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, who was endorsed by Donald Trump. So, she ran herself. She won a six-person primary and defeated Yoder by nearly 30,000 votes.

“I hope you can see how — although on paper it’s not super clear — how someone like me ends up in Congress. I actually think paths should look more like that than the current path that we usually see of people who are representing us in the House, the Senate and the White House,” Davids said.

She said Aug. 2 primary ballots across Kansas included an amendment to the Kansas Constitution that would reverse a 2019 Kansas Supreme Court decision declaring a right to abortion existed in the state’s Bill of Rights. She opposes the amendment and was startled by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last week striking down the Roe v. Wade decision that had legalized abortion nationwide.

“We’re the first state in the country to have voters make their voices heard on this,” Davids said to applause. “With the things we’re seeing in so many other places that are so extreme, I think if — not if — when we beat back this amendment, we can send literally waves of hope through the entire rest of the country. We can do that right from the heartland.”

U.S. Senate candidate Mark Holland, a Democrat who served as mayor of the Unified Government in Wyandotte County, said during a campaign event south of Ottawa that Democrats can win in Kansas by defeating GOP nominees in the state's 10 largest population counties and by losing respectably in the other 95 counties of Kansas. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
U.S. Senate candidate Mark Holland, a Democrat who served as mayor of the Unified Government in Wyandotte County, said during a campaign near Ottawa that Democrats could win statewide campaigns in Kansas by defeating GOP nominees in the state’s 10 largest population counties and losing respectably in the other 95 counties. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Abrams’ playbook

U.S. Senate candidate Mark Holland, a Democrat who served as mayor of the Unified Government in Wyandotte County, started his stump speech by declaring lineage as a fourth-generation union Democrat and third-generation United Methodist pastor.

He said Kansas needed representatives in Washington, D.C., who understood what Americans had in common was greater than what divided them. In faith communities, he said, members didn’t segregate themselves in pews by partisan affiliation. Folks in church who disagreed philosophically worshiped together, sang in the choir together and worked in the food pantry together.

“We all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want meaningful work. We all want opportunity for our children. And, we all want to live in a community that we can be proud of.”

He’s campaigning against five other people to be the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate seat held by Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican who has served in Congress since 1997.

“Jerry Moran talks a moderate game, but in fact he has voted with everyone on the extremist side,” Holland said.

Holland, of Kansas City, said a frequent question on the campaign trail centered on how he expected to defeated Moran. The inquiries come from discouraged Kansans who don’t recall Democrats won three of the five past races for governor, he said.

He said the winning strategy had to focus on nominating quality candidates and getting out the vote. Five counties in Kansas hold half the state’s votes, he said, while 10 counties possessed two-thirds of the total.

“Laura Kelly won four years ago by winning nine out of 105 counties,” he said. “We need to win the big 10. In the other 95, where there are one-third of the votes, we need to take a chapter out of Stacey Abrams’ book in Georgia and be willing to lose less badly.”

And, porn stars

Two rivals of Holland — Patrick Wiesner of Overland Park and Robert Klingenberg of Salina — were on hand to address the after-dinner group of Democrats.

Wiesner, who has campaign for U.S. Senate twice before, said if elected he would be committed to creation of quality manufacturing jobs and a robust K-12 education system. He said it was sad Trump still held sway over the Republican Party.

“Kansas is the state that gave this country Dwight Eisenhower, Father Emil Kapaun and Amelia Earhart,” he said. “These heroes stand for leadership and sacrifice and courage. Trump is a draft dodger who purposely doesn’t pay his contractors and he hires porn stars.”

Klingenberg, who worked as a truck driver, said corporate oligarchs should provide a living wage to workers because “everybody deserves the America we were promised when growing up.” He said time had come for universal health care in the United States.

Robert McCune, the Democratic Party chairman in Franklin County and a candidate for the Kansas House, said young people were invigorated by demise of Roe v. Wade to volunteer in this election cycle. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)
Darrell McCune, standing right, the Democratic Party chairman in Franklin County and a candidate for the Kansas House, said young people were invigorated by demise of Roe v. Wade to volunteer in the current election cycle. He said the county’s Democratic Party had been growing since 2016. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Remember Brownback

Lynn Rogers, the Democratic state treasurer seeking election to that statewide office, said he had a career as an agriculture banker and served 16 years on the Wichita school board before elected to the Kansas Senate and lieutenant governor as Kelly’s running mate. He was subsequently appointed by Kelly to the vacant job of treasurer.

“Never really planned to go to Topeka,” he told the crowd. “I always kind of thought it was a bubble and people acted kind of different.”

He doesn’t have a primary opponent, but would face winner of a GOP primary between state Rep. Steven Johnson of Assaria and state Sen. Caryn Tyson of Parker. The field includes Libertarian candidate Steve Roberts. Johnson, Rogers said, models himself as a moderate but votes with the “far right” 97% of the time. He said Tyson voted with extreme Republicans “125% of the time.” Roberts, a former state Board of Education member, fit the same mold.

“We know it’s going to be hard-fought,” Rogers said. “We know that a strong state treasurer’s race, particularly me being from Wichita, will help many of our Democrats statewide. We need every Democrat, every independent and what I call principled Republican to say, ‘We don’t want to go back. We cannot afford to go back'” to policies championed by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The local level

Darrell McCune, the Democratic Party chairman in Franklin County, said he was energized after doubling the number of Democrats signed up to serve in county precinct positions. In this election cycle, he said, the tally increased from 10 to 21.

“The county party has been really growing since 2016,” said McCune, a retired school music teacher who is running for the 59th District Kansas House seat left vacant by departure of GOP Rep. Blaine Finch of Ottawa. “It’s fun.”

He said Democrats in the county were expanding door-to-door operations. In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade prompted young women to call about volunteering during the current election cycle.

Nina Fricke, who lives in northern Miami County, said she had been represented by Davids for nearly four years.

“I have never in my life seen a representative work so hard,” she said. “I really hope we can get her in so you all can get to know her.”

Fricke, running for the District 6 seat in the Kansas House, has worked for 35 years as a nurse specializing in newborn intensive care. She said political debates at the Capitol on the COVID-19 pandemic and funding of K-12 public schools were troubling.

“This last year I watched the Legislature very, very closely. I didn’t like what I saw,” she said. “Saw a lot of really bad medical information being given. And, I also saw an awful lot of attacks on public education.”

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Tim Carpenter
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.

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