Melinda Henneberger

Back in Kansas, Rep. Sharice Davids’ support for impeachment inquiry gets big applause

Ahead of freshman Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids’ town hall in Kansas City, Kansas, on Saturday, President Donald Trump’s campaign put out a statement warning her constituents in the 3rd District that she supports her party’s impeachment inquiry.

“Kansans have made it clear that they do not stand for the impeachment witch hunt,” the statement said, “yet Rep. Davids continues to turn her back on her constituents to please her pals like Nancy Pelosi and the socialist squad in D.C. Voters will remember her actions when they cast their ballot next November.”

The whole idea of Sharice Davids, socialist squadista, is a laugh line to anyone who’s watched her for three minutes. And since she was elected in part because moderate voters in her swing district wanted a representative who would oppose the president more strenuously than Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder had, she no doubt hopes they do remember her actions. She owes you a thank you note, Mr. President.

So how do her constituents feel now, about their first-term congresswoman and her posture toward their president?

All I know is, the crowd of more than 100 who chose to spend their sunny Saturday afternoon at her community meeting in the El Centro Academy for Children gave her their loudest and longest ovation by far when she said she felt she had no choice but to support the impeachment inquiry.

She was among the last House Democrats to do so, after what seemed like some excruciating arguments with her cautious self.

But then, that changed. “When I saw the materials the White House and the president himself put out,” she told the crowd, “between our president and the president of another country, where he is asking for someone to look into a political adversary, I felt like that was a line that once that was crossed, I didn’t see any other option but for us to take the steps that are being taken now.”

After the event, several people in the audience mentioned Davids’ answer on impeachment as the one that stood out for them in a positive way.

William Payne, a 31-year-old pro-life evangelical who works in health care, said he didn’t vote for Davids last year, but “I’m certainly open to supporting her in the future,” specifically “because I strongly support impeachment.”

“I’m glad she addressed election interference,” Payne said. “I would have liked to hear more specifics, but the president asked for foreign interference in our election, and that’s a very serious matter.”

Davids was more specific, though, on that and other issues, than I’ve found her on other occasions. Speaking only for myself, the same thoughtfulness that we on The Star’s editorial board found so appealing when we first met with her was the very thing that had become frustrating: At some point, thought needs to lead to a decision and then action. I do see that for a gay Native American woman raised in the military, cautiousness is probably not only a trait or habit but a survival strategy. But in her new role, when would she stop answering every question with an assurance of how carefully she was considering x or y issue?

For whatever reason, she did not do that on Saturday, and instead did her constituents the courtesy of answering their questions without so many caveats. (No, she does not support “Medicare for All,” nor does she support the Green New Deal.)

Maybe that’s why several people in the audience said they disagreed with Davids on the issue of primary importance to them, yet planned to support her next year anyway.

She also was sharper in her criticism, saying Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has been refusing to do his job” to the point of “dereliction of duty.”

“He’s actually doing a lot of damage,” even to his own members, by refusing to let the Senate vote on election security and hundreds of other bills. So “right now, they’re not doing their job” either.

On the most popular House version of Medicare for All, Davids said, “There are a couple of specific provisions in the bill that I have an issue with. One relates to the choice of coverage. There are a lot of people in our community who have insurance through their workplace, and this bill would restrict their ability to have that. I think there are a lot of ways for us to get to universal access for affordable, quality health care, and at the end of the day, that’s what I want to see.”

Dawson Sims, a 20-year-old UMKC student and climate activist, stood up at the town hall and from his seat in the bleachers at the back of the school gym, shouted a question about the Green New Deal. For a protester, he was polite, thanking Davids for her attention to climate change but then adding that “these incremental policies you’re talking about won’t ever be enough.”

The audience still did not appreciate the interruption, and a man in the front row stood, too, and shouted back at him, “I want to hear her, not you!” It was Davids herself who defused the moment. Without rewarding the intrusion, she told Sims she’d be happy to talk to him after the session, which she did.

At the close of the Q & A, she said that part of the point of the event was to “set the expectation” that the representative of the 3rd District — “I won’t be here forever” — should show up and answer questions, “regardless of whether we agree or disagree” on the answers.

Maybe because her predecessor did not often do that, this was a big applause line, too. Her willingness to get on a stage in a school gym and say, in essence, “I’m not with you on some things you care a lot about,” should not be any big deal. But because so many officeholders would apparently rather have dental work without lidocaine, this went a long way with her audience, myself included.

Al Frisby, who serves on the Merriam City Council, “loved” what she said about his top concern, carbon emissions. But more than that, he said, “She’s done a good job just by getting out in the community.”

On this one day, she did not seem paralyzed by prudence, and I hope the reception she got leads to more of the same.

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Melinda Henneberger is a columnist and member of The Star’s editorial board. She has covered crime, local and state government, hospitals, social services, prisons and national politics. For 10 years, she was a reporter for The New York Times in New York, Washington, D.C. and Rome. In 2019, she was a Pulitzer finalist for commentary and received the Mike Royko Award for Commentary and Column Writing from the News Leaders Association.