Rep. Jo Ella Hoye | Democrat – Kansas
June 14, 2023
In a recent interview, Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, Democratic member of the Kansas Future Caucus, opened up about her experience and policy work as bridge-builder in the Kansas Legislature. Read on to learn more about how Rep. Hoye works across party lines to advance legislation her constituents care about!
Meet Rep. Hoye:
“I’m Representative Jo Ella Hoye. I represent District 17 in the Kansas House of Representatives. My story starts when I became a stay at home mom after my son was born. I had previously been working in the Johnson County manager’s office, and had a background in local government management. After a couple of years into that, I got really involved with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, and it became clear to me that my purpose was to jump in and help try to go and the gun violence crisis in our country. I felt that my background of nonpartisan local government management really lended itself well to work on an issue that has been unnecessarily polarizing in our nation. I had a state rep who was also a young legislator who was supportive of the issue, and when the seat became open, I knew that it was my time to take a turn serving in the legislature and fighting for better public safety in our state.”
What are some of the key issues that are important to you and your constituents in Kansas? How do you prioritize these issues and work towards achieving positive outcomes for your district?
“The issue of safety is definitely the big one which is why I took this step. Another really important issue to me is public education. During that same time, when I was considering running for office, Kansas lost more title one funding than any other state in the country, and my son was in an elementary school of one of the schools that lost their title one status due to funding loss. So that, piling on with daily news of people losing their lives because of gun violence and safety issues, I felt really compelled to lend a hand and be of help… It’s not even about me being a voice really, rather, I look at this position that I am in as a platform to elevate the voices of people most impacted by the decisions that lawmakers make. I’m always trying to get hearings and encourage people to come and share their stories before my colleagues. Prior to running, I would go testify in committees and look at the gun bills that would come up, for example, and so I have gone from somebody who would as a public citizen, when testified before the federal state affairs committee to now serving as the ranking minority member of that committee.”
Your work with Moms Demand Action has been instrumental in promoting sensible gun legislation in Kansas. Can you tell us more about the challenges you faced and the bipartisan support you were able to garner for these initiatives?
“I think that when we see and hear the stories that happen in our communities, we can all agree that nobody wants their neighbors and constituents to be shot and killed… One of the ways I promoted safety legislation in Kansas with MDA was tackling the issue of domestic violence, and I think this issue has really been something where both sides have come together on. Before I was elected, and I was still an advocate at the state house, the Kansas legislature passed a bipartisan domestic violence bill that mirrored federal law to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers by saying that upon convictions for domestic violence, misdemeanors, and stalking, that those individuals are no longer permitted to purchase or possess firearms — so that was a huge success! It overwhelmingly passed the legislature and was signed into law by then Governor Colyer here in Kansas. I think that’s one example of a huge bipartisan move in the right direction. As far as roadblocks or challenges, there was actually an issue with the enforcement mechanism of that law, and during my first year, the Chair of Federal and State Affairs gave a hearing to the bill that would have created that mechanism for those individuals who have been convicted of domestic violence, misdemeanors, and stalking to relinquish their firearms that they may already have, and so there are still definite roadblocks and things that we have to get past. But having those hearings, and having survivors come and tell their stories, is very impactful and I think, helps to move the needle by bipartisan support.”
Being involved in various community organizations and programs, such as the My Volunteer Pal program and the PTA, demonstrates your commitment to civic engagement. How do these experiences inform your legislative work and help you better understand the needs of your community?
“Having those experiences and knowing that I, as a citizen, have just as much a right to make my voice heard as the lawmakers do, did certainly help me. Before serving as a legislator, I was the Vice Chair of my city’s planning commission, and just seeing people come in and testify deftly shaped my perspective on advocacy and the power of stories in public policy. These experiences definitely give me confidence, and help me better connect to my constituents and the advocates in our community. I also will add as a bit of advice from these experiences, and that is nobody should ever be afraid to talk to their lawmaker. Please have a conversation with them, email them, give them a call to meet with them. You, the citizen, have the power, and reality is — it’s usually us who are the ones that are nervous! Whenever we hold a hearing or speak on the floor, you can see us shaking and nervous… And that’s okay! All of us should do what it takes to make our voices heard. It matters, and people are gonna listen, even if you’re nervous.”
What have been some of the most rewarding moments or achievements during your time as a legislator? How do you measure the impact of your work and ensure that you are effectively representing your constituents?
“I just recently attended a ceremonial bill signing for my first bill that I had introduced that became law. It was a highway renaming bill in collaboration with the city of Shawnee which I represent part of. The bill recognized an officer who lost his life in the line of duty, and I couldn’t help but think that sometimes you can get so caught up in the details of things, but this was one of those bills where it’s extremely touching and personal. Lawmakers got to hear from the family members and kids. Officer Gamble’s wife and two of his sons came for that bill signing. The bill reminded all of us of the importance in recognizing fellow Kansans and the sacrifices that they make as well as bringing awareness to the importance of driving safely. It was a very meaningful moment to me to see his family and I’m honored that no one’s going to forget, Officer Gamble and his service to our state.”
Lastly, what advice would you give to other young individuals who aspire to pursue a career in public service? What qualities or skills do you believe are essential for someone entering the political arena?
“I think being willing to know what you don’t know or being willing to ask questions is a really important trait. Confidence is also important. I’d also say if you are considering running and you’ve never attended a hearing or if you’ve been wanting to but it’s cost restrictive or far to travel to your capital, there are so many other ways to get involved. Go to your city council meeting, go to a school board meeting… Get involved, watch the process, and see how it works — that will give you a big step ahead. When you run and get elected, be ready to learn the ropes, find a good mentor, and soak up all the information that you can. You can do this and you are needed — it’s so important to have diversity and we need those voices, and the people who understand what families are going through, or what your community is going through to represent. We need you in office.”
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