by Mary Rupert
Plenty of challengers are stepping up to take on Goliath – in this case, incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder – in the 3rd District Congressional primary Aug. 7.
Six articulate Democrats at a Democratic candidate forum sponsored by SwingLeft KS-03, the Wyandotte County Young Democrats and the KCKCC Student Senate, stated their positions Thursday, May 24, at Kansas City Kansas Community College. More than 100 persons attended.
Democratic challengers attending this forum included Sharice Davids, Mike McCamon, Tom Niermann, Jay Sidie, Brent Welder and Sylvia Williams.
The Goliath comparison fits with campaign warchests and name recognition. Rep. Yoder had raised about four times as much money in donations as the leading Democratic candidates as of the end of March, according to campaign finance information. Some of the Democrats are picking up support from national political action committees.
Yoder has primary opposition from two Republican candidates, Trevor Keegan of Lenexa, Kansas, and Joe Myers of Overland Park, Kansas. Chris Clemmons of Shawnee, Kansas, is a Libertarian candidate for the 3rd District running in the general election.
One of the Democratic challengers, Sharice Davids, a lawyer and economic adviser, said she didn’t look like the typical Congressman, because the typical Congressman doesn’t look like America.
“I’m not here to be anybody’s voice,” she said, adding that people already have their own voices. “I’m here because I want to help amplify and to listen. When I’m in Congress creating legislation, it’s important that everyone’s voice and thoughts and experiences are included in our policies and our legislation. And everyone should have a seat at the table.”
A Native American woman raised by a single mother who served in the Army, Davids said she had to work really hard to get to law school. She is a graduate of Leavenworth High School, Johnson County Community College, the University of Missouri at Kansas City, and Cornell University law school, and has worked with Native American groups on economic development. She has served as a White House Fellow.
She supports affordable health care, the expansion of Medicaid, gun safety laws, and full civil rights protections for LGBTQI people.
Brent Welder, a Bonner Springs labor lawyer who worked in the Bernie Sanders campaign, said he has spent his entire career serving the underserved and voiceless.
“We live in an absolutely rigged economy,” Welder said. “This economy is being controlled by a handful of billionaires and giant corporations that do not care about you one bit. What they care about is their profit margin ticking up one-tenth of one percent at the end of each quarter. And the way they achieve that is by victimizing women, ethnic and racial minorities, working class people and poor people. And then they take a small percentage of that profit and they bribe politicians in Washington of all political stripes to keep that system going.
“The only way these Republicans stay in office is by taking completely insane positions and then making a strong case for it,” Welder said. “They are strong and wrong.”
He said the way to beat “strong and wrong” was with “strong and right.” He added he supports issues including Medicare for all, and a $15 minimum wage. He plans to fight for middle-class workers, women’s equality and racial justice.
Mike McCamon, a technology and nonprofit executive from Overland Park, worked for Apple, Intel and other companies, helped make Bluetooth successful and helped launch Matt Damon’s nonprofit organization that helps people in developing countries get clean water.
“I’m running because I don’t want Kevin Yoder to be our representative,” McCamon said, describing himself as a progressive moderate. His campaign information says he leads from the center. While he leans left, he said he understands there is a need for fiscal policies that can actually accomplish goals.
McCamon said his wife’s illness spurred him to run, and he favors making health care accessible and affordable for all.
He supports expanding background checks for guns, the Equal Rights Amendment and making public education a priority.
Tom Niermann, a history teacher from Prairie Village, said early in his career, students of his were shot and killed, a gun was brought into his classroom, and nothing has changed since that time. He’s also running for office because before the Affordable Care Act came along, his wife was deemed uninsurable, and the ACA is under assault.
He also hears from his students how uncertain the problems are that the world faces, he said, and politicians do nothing to solve the problems.
“I’m running for office because as a teacher married to a teacher, I know what it’s like to work paycheck to paycheck, I know what it’s like to struggle with a middle-class family, and I am running for office because every election cycle, we send professional politicians, bankers, lawyers, executives to Congress, and the middle class gets left behind,” he said.
“It’s about time someone from the middle class represented the middle class,” he said.
He supports public education, LGBTQ rights, campaign finance reform and common sense gun safety protections.
Jay Sidie, a businessman who ran for Congress in 2016, said what makes a good Congressman is life experiences. Sidie received 40 percent of the vote to Yoder’s 51 percent in the general election in 2016.
The Mission, Kansas, candidate, who has an MBA in finance, said he started working summers in road construction, then decided to go to college. He became a vice president of a Fortune 500 company. His campaign literature says he is not in favor of career politicians.
“I know how they think, I know what they’re doing wrong, I know the loopholes we need to fix,” Sidie said. “We could make America great again very easily with a few simple fixes going on in Washington.”
On health care, Sidie favors equal access to health care and preventive care, accountability and affordability.
He supports strengthening the environment, gender and racial equality, and gun reform, including a ban on assault weapons.
Sylvia Williams, a managing director in banking and finance, said she was the first woman to reach the top position in her field at her place of employment. She has a bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s in finance.
“I know how hard it is to succeed in a man’s world,” she said.
“I’m really angered that we could be living in a world where Trump is our president, Kris Kobach is our governor, and Yoder is our House representative,” Williams said.
She said Yoder is going to have millions of dollars to come after whoever is the Democrats’ nominee, and they have to be transparent now. She said she has released the last three years of her income tax returns and asked all the candidates to do the same.
She said they need to fight for health care for all, better wages, and to fight for Social Security and Medicare. There needs to be a candidate who can withstand the attacks in the general election campaign and win, she said.
The two moderators were Crystal Watson and Gary Enrique Bradley Lopez. Crystal Watson, deputy chief of staff to Mayor David Alvey, asked the candidates questions about improving health in Wyandotte County and other topics. Gary Enrique Bradley Lopez of the Wyandotte County Young Democrats asked the candidates about Black Lives Matter and other topics.
The “Goliath” comparison fits Rep. Yoder in the campaign finance category.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Republican, has amassed $2.1 million in campaign donations and had $1.9 million cash on hand at the end of March, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, opensecrets.org. That compares to $519,931 raised by Niermann, $496,010 raised by Welder, $256,710 raised by Williams, $152,426 raised by McCamon, $127,711 raised by Davids and $1,586 raised by Sidie as of the end of March, the Center for Responsive Politics reported. More campaign finance information is expected to be released in July.
The forum’s partners included the Wyandotte County Democratic Party, Kansas Democratic Party – 3rd Congressional District, MoveOn, March Forward KC, True Blue Women, Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and GKCWPC- Wyandotte County Political Action Group.
The candidates answered several other questions during the forum. To view the forum online, visit https://www.facebook.com/SLKS03/videos/433471997077224/.
Voter registration closes July 17 for the Aug. 7 primary. The general election is Nov. 6.