A Johnson County man would be the first openly gay member of the Kansas Legislature if he succeeds in his bid for a seat in the Kansas House.
Democrat Matthew Calcara, a 36-year-old Olathe resident who works as a freelance web producer, officially launched his bid Tuesday for the 30th House District, which is currently represented by Rep. Randy Powell, an Olathe Republican.
Calcara’s announcement comes the same week that Chris Schultz, an openly gay businessman, entered the race for Topeka mayor. Openly gay candidates have been elected at the local level in Kansas before, but none has ever succeeded in winning a state office.
Calcara noted that Powell opposed expanding Medicaid to cover uninsured Kansans, and that he was one of the main proponents in the Kansas House in favor of adopting a resolution that condemned pornography on public health grounds.
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“If there was a spark that made me say, ‘This is why I got to run,’ that was probably it,” he said.
Powell defended that anti-pornography resolution, saying pornography degrades women and can become addictive. He said his opposition to Medicaid expansion was based on several factors, including the lack of a work requirement and a belief that the program is not the best way to connect people with quality health care.
“I think some kind of voucher program that could afford people some kind of ability toward buying a private health plan would be a better program,” he said.
Calcara returned to Johnson County, where he grew up, in 2016 after 15 years in the Los Angeles area.
During his time in California, Calcara stayed engaged in Kansas politics and was a vocal supporter of Dan Manning, an openly gay candidate who unsuccessfully sought a Wichita House seat in 2010 and faced death threats.
“You can’t be ashamed. You can’t hide from it,” said Manning, who works in the aerospace industry and now lives in Georgia. “Unfortunately for many people, that one part of who we are is enough to turn them off … but he has to be as authentic as he can.”
Calcara said one of the reasons he’s running is to “run against the climate of fear.”