ON THE RISE — REP. RUI

April 19, 2023

On the Rise is a year-long series leading up to MAP’s ten year anniversary. The series features profiles of Millennial and Gen Z legislators in the Millennial Action Project’s State Future Caucus Network (SFCN) network. The SFCN is a bipartisan network of young elected officials that engages with over 1,600 legislators across the country to work on future-oriented policy solutions. Future Caucus members are committed to pragmatically working toward a culture of political cooperation.

In a recent interview, Rep. Rui Xu, Democratic co-chair of the Kansas Future Caucus, opened up about his experience and policy work as an elected progressive in Kansas. Read on to learn more about how Rep. Xu works across party lines to turn his home state into a top destination for young people.

Meet Rep. Xu:

“I immigrated to the United States when I was two years old. This experience made me keenly aware of the impact of political events in this country. The Muslim ban, for instance, really struck a nerve with me and made me think about what it would mean for a two-year-old Muslim boy — which was so similar to my circumstances. These events sparked my interest and motivated me to get involved in some way. I reached out to several organizations to see how I could help, and eventually, I was introduced to an opportunity to run for a statehouse election in my district. At the time, the candidate was running unopposed, so I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

Was there anything that surprised you when you were first elected into office?

“I think the most surprising thing is the friendships you make. I was surprised to learn that I got along better with some Republicans than with some members of my own party. For example, during my first term, I was placed on the agriculture committee, which, admittedly, seemed like a strange fit for someone like me. In the committee, my seat was next to an experienced, conservative lawmaker who taught me a lot, and I was shocked to see how much common ground we found. We would share photos of our children or wives, or just tell jokes and stories. We became good friends from this.”

Can you share a little about your district and your constituents? What issues are your constituents looking for you to represent?

“My district, Johnson County, is a classic example of a “Whole Foods district” — meaning a district who has shifted blue over the last ten years… My district is a blend of older individuals, young families, and working professionals. While it’s traditionally a blue district, in recent years, it has taken a significant left turn.”

How do you approach representing a progressive district in a conservative state like Kansas?

“As well as I can. This really has been one of the biggest challenges — representing my progressive district and hearing such good ideas from my constituents, but knowing it will not be able to pass in the state. Now, that’s not to say I believe in gatekeeping good progressive ideas. I definitely have big dreams and big ideas for the state, and am eager to share them with my colleagues, but it’s always going to be a challenge… I think it’s also important to note that what’s the most helpful is that my district is very engaged, with 70–75% voter turnout every election cycle. Their support and knowledge of what can be done and advanced is invaluable in this process. I couldn’t do it without them.”

Can you walk us through a specific time when you successfully worked with a conservative lawmaker to pass legislation on a progressive issue?

“Although it did not pass, a bill I proposed that incentivized farmers to promote healthy soil practices taught me a lot about collaboration. A conservative colleague of mine saw the potential in the bill and was willing to work with me, but noted that the “climate-changey” language might turn some lawmakers off. I took this feedback and removed that language from the bill. With our collaborative effort, the bill was able to advance further than it would have otherwise… Progressive policies are popular, and you would be surprised what some people will get behind or want to see accomplished too.”

One of the issues you have articulated you care about is restoring public trust in our institutions. What does restoring this trust look like to you?

“For the past 20 years, the public has been on a steady decline in faith in our institutions. This is a major issue. As a lawmaker, I take my role very seriously and want my constituents to know that their welfare is my top priority, and I am not there for any other reason. Serving as a representative requires hard work and a significant time commitment, as you are there to serve *a lot* of people. One of the ways I demonstrate this is by responding to every email or phone call I receive. Responsiveness should be the baseline expectation for an elected representative who is meant to represent the people.”

Can you talk about the success of the Future Caucus?

“I’ve been incredibly proud of the Future Caucus and what we’ve been able to achieve in the statehouse. We have nearly 35 members now from a wide range of political ideologies — we have some of the most conservative and the most progressive members in the House. I think our key to success is our ‘friends first’ mentality. The Republican co-chair, Rep. Blew, and I are good friends, and we bring young lawmakers into the caucus with the understanding that we will disagree on the big 5 or 6 issues; however, the Future Caucus is a place where we can look past those issues and work together on the areas where we can collaborate.

One way we achieve this is through social events like our axe-throwing event a few years ago. We saw a very staunch 2A supporter and a heavy gun-control member come together and talk about the issue, which was really interesting to see over beers and axes. But this speaks to the larger point that we like to think of the caucus as a ‘judgment free zone’ — a place where we can ask questions about the other side that we might feel too uncomfortable to ask publicly. For example, Rep. Brandon Woodard, another Future Caucus member, has been a great and open resource for conservative lawmakers on LGBTQ issues.”

Looking ahead, what are your priorities for the future of your district and the state of Kansas?

“Building a Kansas that young people want to stay in and come to. My goal is to make Kansas this attractive destination. We’re seeing a lot of growth in Kansas with tech companies and other big businesses moving here. We have the World Cup in a few years, the Chiefs’ are in the Superbowl nearly every year, and we have great affordable housing options. Personally, I even envision Kansas becoming the #1 renewable energy state in the country… We have all of these great things in store. I think we need to focus on our ambitions and not get sidetracked by culture wars. This is a moment for us to set an example for what a vibrant Midwestern state can look like. Together, I think we can make this happen.”

Watch the video interview above!
Rep. Sara Jacobs

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