A Johnson County resident hopes to be first Native American woman elected to Congress if she can win the Democratic primary to take on U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder in the fall.
Sharice Davids, a 37-year-old Shawnee attorney and member of the Ho-Chunk nation, served as a White House fellow during the final year of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Davids, who grew up in Leavenworth and holds a degree from Cornell Law School, spent time working as a legal counsel for a development corporation on a reservation in South Dakota before her stint at the White House.
Her campaign announcement noted that if elected she would be the first female Native American to serve in Congress and the first openly gay member of the Kansas delegation.
“Until it got pointed out to me it wasn’t necessarily part of my thinking, but the gravity of it really hit me recently,” Davids said. “It’s amazing how long we’ve been in a country, but we’re still having firsts.”
She said her mother became teary-eyed upon finding out she could be the first Native American woman representative.
“It wasn’t part of my decision. … but I’m definitely proud to be part of this time in history. I think there will be a lot of historical things happening in the 2018,” she said.
If she wins, Davids could potentially share the distinction with Democrat Debra Haaland, a Native American woman who is running for a congressional seat in New Mexico.
Davids is one of two Democrats this month to join the race in Kansas’ Third District. The other is Mike McCamon, an Overland Park resident with a background in the technology and nonprofit sector.
McCamon spent 25 years working in the technology sector, including time at Bluetooth and Sprint, before serving from 2009 to 2014 as the director of technology for Water.org, a Kansas City-based nonprofit that works on water and sanitation projects in the developing world.
McCamon has framed himself at a centrist, saying last week that he plan to “lead from the middle” in a race where other candidates have made more overt appeals to the left.
Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, has held the seat since 2011. The race is a top target for national Democrats, but has lacked a clear frontrunner since attorney Andrea Ramsey dropped out in December in the face of 12-year-old sexual harassment allegations. Democratic voters will select a nominee in August.
Other Democratic candidates include Tom Niermann, Brent Welder, Chris Haulmark and the party’s 2016 nominee, Jay Sidie. Davids joked about needing a bus to transport all the candidates to events.
Davids announced her candidacy the day after a school shooting in Florida claimed the lives of 17 people.
“Every time one of these things happens there’s just a lot of discussion and people get sad and people get angry… and then no real action is taken by Congress,” Davids said.
She lamented the restriction on research into gun violence for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and voiced support for stronger restrictions on AR-15 rifles.
“If you’re hunting or you want to protect your home, do you really need an assault rifle for that?” she said, noting that her mother’s experience serving in the military and as a police officer has given her a healthy respect for the power of firearms.
Davids said that conversations on health care policy need to start with the belief that health care is a human right. But while she supports a single payer system in concept, she said that smaller improvements to health care access are more realistic policy goals right now with President Donald Trump in office.
Her time as a White House fellow included the months when Trump first took office. She worked at the U.S. Department of Transportation during the transitional period.
In addition to her political and legal experience, Davids has a history of competing in mixed martial arts tournaments.
“I grew up obsessed with Bruce Lee,” she said. Her family couldn’t afford lessons when she was a kid, but she pursued the hobby as an adult and entered her first tournament at age 26.