Kansas Democrat Mark Holland not interested in being footnote to history in U.S. Senate race

Holland takes moderate message statewide in bid to unseat GOP’s Jerry Moran

By: - August 22, 2022 9:28 am
participated in a Kansas Reflector interview in Topeka about his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, the Republican Party's nominee. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Mark Holland, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, participates in a Kansas Reflector podcast interview in Topeka about his campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, the Republican Party’s nominee. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Democrat Mark Holland said he wouldn’t be deterred by political math resulting in Republicans winning every Kansas election for U.S. Senate since 1939.

Holland, former mayor of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, said a formula for success against Republican U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran was to prevail in 10 counties holding two-thirds of the state’s vote and by respecting interests of neglected rural voters.

His U.S. Senate campaign will take him to all 105 counties for face-to-face conversations with folks deciding Nov. 8 whether to end the longest GOP winning streak in the nation.

“We have a better message on public education. We have a better message on health care. We have a better message on wages. We need to get out and share our message,” Holland said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “And, we need to spend the time listening to the real concerns of real people.”

Kansans interested in moderate representation in Washington, D.C., shouldn’t be bound to the legacy of Democrat George McGill, who was elected to fill the unexpired term of U.S. Sen. Charles Curtis in 1930 and won a full term in 1932. He was the last Democrat from Kansas elected to the U.S. Senate.

Holland said reversing that trend required Democrats to resonate with voters in the state’s populous 10 counties and draw upon a reservoir of support in the others. A cadre of voters statewide, both urban and rural, feel abandoned by their representatives in Washington, he said.

“Everyone wants to win the big 10,” Holland said. “But we also have to respect the 95 counties that have a third of our votes. I get frustrated with Democrats nationally who complain about losing rural communities, complain about losing red states, and don’t spend a minute listening to people in these communities.”

 

‘Courage to stand up’

Holland, 53,  grew up in Topeka and Kansas City, Kansas. His father was a Methodist minister and his mother a public school teacher. He earned a philosophy degree at Southern Methodist University, a master’s degree in divinity at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and a doctorate of ministry at St. Paul School of Theology.

He served a congregation in Denver before serving churches in Elwood and Wathena in northeast Kansas.

“I was in two towns whose combined population was smaller than the high school I attended,” he said. “And one of the things I learned about that is we all want the same things. Right? We all want meaningful work. We all want opportunities for our kids. We all want to live in a community we’re proud of. I think Washington, D.C., could learn something that what holds us together is much greater than what pulls us apart.”

He was at Trinity Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas, from 1999 to 2018. He co-founded Mainstream UMC to advocate for inclusion of LGBTQ+ people into the Methodist church in terms of marriage and ordination.

He serve six years on the city-county unified government before elected mayor and serving in that post from 2013 to 2017. He lost a campaign for reelection, but learned the necessity of striving to motivate low-propensity voters rather than concentrate on people most likely to cast ballots.

In 2021, Holland announced his campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination for U.S. Senate. He prevailed in a six-candidate primary in August to earn the opportunity to challenge Moran, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 and the U.S. House in 1997. In Moran’s two Senate campaigns, he won the 2010 general election with 70% of the vote and the 2016 race with 62% of the vote.

Holland said Washington was dominated by extremist Republicans who left moderates behind on issues of abortion, guns, economic policy and other issues.

Kansas is a pretty moderate. Pretty low key plainspoken group as a whole,” Holland said. “We deserve someone who has the courage to stand up. Right now being a moderate takes courage, because the extremes want to pull you off.”

 

Plainspoken preacher

Holland is a proponent of expanding Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act to lower-income Kansans because it would help families in urban and rural communities. He also supported federal legislation allowing Medicare negotiate to lower medication prices for the elderly, but couldn’t understand why federal lawmakers would oppose a price cap on the monthly cost of insulin to treat diabetes.

“We’re the only developed country in the world where families are worried about health care,” he said. “People are not able to take care of their families the way they need to because we’re not controlling costs. I will help control costs in D.C.”

Holland said U.S. senators from Kansas ought declare in clear language President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to President Joe Biden. Holland said dozens of lawsuits were filed, but no clear evidence of election fraud has been uncovered.

“What we’re seeing right now is this long-play grief cycle that is born because the leaders in the Republican Party have refused to have the courage to look people in the eye and tell them the plain truth,” Holland said. “I’m just as plainspoken preacher, and I’m just going to tell people the truth. We need the courage to tell people the truth, even an unpopular truth or a truth they don’t want to hear.”

Moran has said Biden won the 2020 national election and it would be wrong for Congress to not certify the Electoral College vote. He denounced the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the Capitol, but opposed formation of an independent inquiry into violence precipitated by a rally led by Trump.

Holland said it was wrong for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and take away a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, even to save her own life or in the aftermath of a rape. It would be appropriate for Congress to embed in federal law a right to abortion, he said.

The overwhelming defeat in the Aug. 2 primary of a proposed amendment to the Kansas Constitution declaring no right to bodily autonomy, including abortion, was contained in the state’s Bill of Rights provided evidence of where the state’s voters stood on the issue. He noted Moran, who endorsed reversal of Roe v. Wade, donated $50,000 to organizations supporting passage of the Kansas abortion amendment.

“The idea that women don’t have the right to make their own decisions about their body is, again, that’s looking backwards to the 1950s,” Holland said. “The majority of people in Kansas came out in force and said, not only did they vote no, they voted hell no.”

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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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