Government & Politics

Democrats set for primary to send first openly gay member to the Kansas Legislature

Matthew Calcara (left) and Brandon Woodard
Matthew Calcara (left) and Brandon Woodard

Two men are expected to face off in a Democratic primary in Johnson County that could result in one of them becoming the first openly gay member of the Kansas Legislature.

Brandon Woodard, 27, of Lenexa announced his candidacy for the 30th District House seat Monday morning.

“I’m running because I don’t feel that our current representative is doing a very good job,” Woodard said. “I think that I want to run for Statehouse because I want to work for my neighbors and represent them in Topeka.”

In the primary, he will face Matthew Calcara of Olathe. Calcara, a freelance web producer who also is openly gay, launched his bid last May.

“Equality Kansas is thrilled to have just one openly LGBT person running for office; having two running is a good thing,” said Tom Witt, director of the LGBT rights group Equality Kansas. “We wish they were running in different districts, but we’ll back whoever wins.”

Both men are trying to claim the seat held by Rep. Randy Powell, an Olathe Republican. He has filed for re-election.

Powell is seen as one of the most conservative members in the Kansas House. He was a driving force behind a resolution that condemned pornography on public health grounds that passed the House last year.

“I guess I would wonder what the new opponent has against the current opponent’s platform,” Powell said. “It would seem if they`re aligned in their philosophies that one would get behind the other, not compete against the other. So it’ll be interesting to see how they differ in their convictions and perspectives.”

Calcara said Monday in a statement that Woodard “represents the establishment of the Democratic Party, while our campaign harnesses the energy of progressive principles.”

“Our campaign has been working diligently, meeting constituents, recruiting volunteers and registering voters in anticipation of the fall contest with ultra-conservative state Rep. Randy Powell,” Calcara said. “We are confident our progressive ideals will create a clear, definitive contrast to ensure victory in both the August primary and the general election.”

Woodard, a University of Kansas grad who works for KU Endowment as a fundraiser, said he is a lifelong Kansan who was born and raised in Topeka.

He also has served as the acting vice chairman of the Johnson County Democratic Party. His other political experiences include working as the chair of the Johnson County Young Democrats and as treasurer of the Kansas Young Democrats.

Woodard said he plans to step away from all three of those roles to run for the House.

In 2012, while serving as KU Student Senate vice president, Woodard was arrested on suspicion of operating under the influence.

He said the case was diverted and dismissed.

“It taught me a lot about myself and about the justice system,” he said. “And I’ve been positively impacting the community ever since.”

Woodard said he supports eliminating the state’s food sales tax, investing in higher education and K-12, and expanding Medicaid.

“I think flipping a seat like this helps us get closer to getting some of those things done,” Woodard said.

The 30th House district includes parts of Olathe and Lenexa.

“I’m running because I’ve been in Kansas my whole life,” Woodard said. “Have worked and paid taxes here for 10 years. And I think this is the best next step for me to make a difference in Kansas. Obviously I think that LGBT people deserve representation in Topeka, in the Statehouse, but I’m running for a number of reasons.”

Hunter Woodall: 785-354-1388, @HunterMw