The outcome of the race for U.S. House from Kansas’ 3rd District has little chance of changing the dynamic of the Republican-controlled body.
Still, 3rd District Kansans, including voters in Wyandotte and Johnson County, do have a real choice. They could replace a consistently right-leaning voice with someone who would bring a centrist passion to the job and could very well help detoxify the hopelessly partisan House.
That alternative to business as usual is Kelly Kultala. She is no stranger to politics, having built a local record of service over the last two decades. She served as a commissioner of the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kan., and in the state Senate for four years. Her underfunded campaign against the incumbent, Rep. Kevin Yoder, is focused on health care, education and other fundamental issues that hit families in the pocketbook or otherwise affect their day-to-day lives.
The soft-spoken Kultala pledges to work to bring jobs to the district, help women get equal pay for equal work, support comprehensive immigration reform and find a tenant for the downtown Kansas City, Kan., building that formerly housed the EPA’s regional headquarters.
Yoder is able, ambitious and energetic, and he has scored some welcome points with shows of bipartisanship. But when the full measure of his congressional stint is taken, he has shown a disappointing tendency to abandon the needs of his diverse constituents while polishing his political credentials on the GOP’s right flank. He has tried to paint himself as a moderate but many of his votes in Congress paint him otherwise.
He voted against ending the government shutdown a year ago — although he’ll finesse that by pointing to rather meaningless votes that took place before the final showdown. His stands on immigration reform and the Affordable Care Act come straight from the hardliner playbook.
Kultala has personal experience with a health-care system in need of the kind of overhaul that the Affordable Care Act has begun to address. Her husband has had a serious medical problem that almost forced her family to file for bankruptcy, she said.
“I don’t think any family has to face financial ruin when someone gets sick,” she told The Star’s editorial board recently.
The 3rd District spans a wide spectrum of income levels from the poorest urban dwellers of Wyandotte County to the richest of the rich in Johnson County. Its residents increasingly reflect immigrant cultures from the world over. Kultala appears to have the talent, the sensitivity and the genuine political radar to address the needs of all.
Margie Wakefield has practiced law in Lawrence for 29 years and has a family history of public service. She worked for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2008 and now is waging an uphill though not impossible campaign against three-term GOP incumbent Rep. Lynn Jenkins.
Wakefield says that as she travels the 25 eastern Kansas counties in the district, she is consistently surprised by the level of frustration expressed toward Congress in general and Jenkins in particular over the appearance that nothing good is being done in the Republican-controlled House.
In more than five years as a House member, Jenkins more often than not voted on behalf of business interests rather than consumers and workers. She has voted to cut education spending, Head Start programs and Pell grants for college students. Wakefield, by contrast, would make support for public education one of her top priorities.
If elected to Congress, Wakefield also would first ask to serve on the House Agriculture Committee, providing a voice on that panel that farmers in the district and across Kansas have lacked for a few years. Jenkins voted against the 2014 Farm Bill. Wakefield and many farmers she has spoken with in her travels recognize that the Farm Bill was not perfect. But they’re willing to trade off the things they don’t much like for some of the certainty of doing farm business that the legislation provides. That sounds like rational compromise, which the U.S. Capitol sorely is in need of and which partisans like Jenkins have failed to provide.
Wakefield has been boosted by increasing attention on this and other nail-biter races in GOP-dominated Kansas.
Despite being outspent by a wide margin, she feels confident about her campaign’s efforts on television and in door-to-door appeals since Labor Day. She praises the work that 6,000 volunteers are doing on her behalf.
Second District voters should feel comfortable sending this moderate Democrat to Washington at a time when the nation’s capital can use much more moderation and a genuine feeling for the lives of real people.