ON THE RISE TOUR — KANSAS FUTURE CAUCUS
January 20, 2023
On Wednesday, January 18th, the Kansas Future Caucus, a bipartisan group of Gen Z and millennial legislators, brought together community members and young legislators for a moment of action. In a panel discussion titled “A More Collaborative Kansas: How Young Legislators Are Shaking Up Topeka,” the young legislators discussed their work in the state legislature, their goals for the 2023 legislative session, and insights into what it is like to be a young person in politics.
The panel was led by Representative Tory Marie Blew, the Republican co-chair, Representative Rui Xu, the Democratic co-chair, Representative Nick Hoheisel, the Republican co-vice chair, and Representative Brandon Woodard, the Democratic co-vice chair.
Rep. Blew opened with comments on the generational and political shift she has witnessed in Kansas, “It used to be: ‘I disagree with you on the floor, I disagree with you on committee, but the moment we leave the capitol — we can talk and have a civil conversation…’ I think we are bringing that culture back. When I first came in, it was very polarized. I would stay away from Democrats; that was ingrained in my mind, but that’s not how you get things done. That’s not how you get legislation passed… We are bringing back the fact that: I’m going to disagree with you in committee…. I disagree with you on a lot of things… But afterwards, let’s go get drinks or dinner and have a conversation.”
Rep. Blew, the Republican co-chair of the caucus, has been in office for seven sessions now. She first ran for office as a senior in college and was the youngest member of the Kansas legislature until 2021. In just six years, Rep. Blew has gone from a college student to House Majority Whip. Her story alone is just one of the examples on how these young leaders are shaking up their state.
“We’re shaking up Topeka because while our peers that have been here for 10, 20, 30 years know how to beat legislation — we are not always focused on that,” said Rep. Brandon Woodard, Democratic co-vice chair of the Kansas Future Caucus. “Of course there are issues that I want to defeat. But it’s only because of the relationships we have built with people on the other side of the aisle that we are able to sustain vetoes on things I want to make sure we are defeating… We are able to come to the table to proactively look at what we can get done together. We are shaking things up because that’s what we do and that’s what our Future Caucus is all about.”
The Kansas Future Caucus (KSFC) is focused on building a healthier governing culture in the state capital. Composed of a range of lawmakers from conservative to progressive to everything in between, the young legislators in Topeka have been a noteworthy example of what consensus-building and dealmaking should look like in legislative institutions across the country. One of the caucus’ most recent successes is KS H.B. 2187, a.k.a. The First-Time Home Buyer Savings Account Act, which allowed for the creation of a first-time home buyer savings account to make it easier for young Kansans to purchase their first home. Rep. Rui Xu, the Democratic co-chair of the KSFC stated, “The bill is not a very progressive bill, it was also not a very conservative bill. Both sides had to compromise, and because of it, we actually got something done for the betterment of our community.”
Relationship-building is key to good policymaking. And the Kansas Future Caucus is the go to place where young legislators can find policy partners in the statehouse. Rep. Blew noted during the panel discussion that it was through her experience of axe-throwing with the legislators that led to a group discussion on gun violence. Rep. Rui Xu joined in saying, “The [Future Caucus] idea extends past the legislature… It’s giving people something higher to aspire to… Politics does not have to feel like it has for the past 4, 8, or 12 years… If it’s going to be a long term change, it’s got to be from this generation. It’s got to be from future leaders of our parties and the state, and that’s in this room.”
Rep. Nick Hoheisel, the Republican co-vice chair, had a similar impression of the group’s unity. He remarked, “We had just held our first Future Caucus event at an axe throwing bar, and I’ll never forget the reception we got from lobbyists… One came up after the other saying, “I think this is a great idea,” “I want to host a dinner for you guys,” “I want to sponsor a dinner…” We had so many folks… so many offers because [they] saw how great this was…. At the end of the day, I think they understand what we are trying to accomplish… People don’t want to see us fighting all the time. They want to see people out here finding solutions and trying to get involved.”
Throughout the panel, the group maintained a unique sense of comradery. Rep. Xu, a progressive Democrat, even noted how the speaker pro-tempore of the Kansas State House is a part of the Future Caucus. “He and I disagree on a lot, but I am happy for him personally because we are friends.”
Kansas is just one of MAP’s many points of proof that the Future Caucus model works. It creates a permission structure that unites legislators along their shared generational identity so they might transcend their partisan differences. As we look to a new season of Millennial and Gen Z legislating, MAP is excited to continue to empower and convene these young leaders. Watch out for more future-focused policy coming from state legislatures with the continuation of the On the Rise tour throughout 2023!
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