Keith Davenport holds his campaign kickoff party at Celebration Park Saturday, June 4. Davenport is running on the Democratic ticket for District 43 Kansas representative against incumbent Bill Sutton. Staff photo by Lynne Hermansen
Keith Davenport, local resident and former Johnson County government employee, is running for Kansas House representative of District 43 against incumbent and five term Republican Bill Sutton.
He launched a kickoff party Saturday, June 4 at Celebration Park. A strong group of people braved the stormy weather and showed up in support.
Davenport said his focus is on what he feels are non bi-partisan issues for every Kansan: education, childcare, entrepreneurial jobs to help boost the local economy.
He hopes to “change the landscape”, he said.
Davenport said the Kansas legislature is working against public schools, and he plans on working for them. He also said recent skyrocketing inflation combined with the cost of living not keeping pace with jobs and wages are real problems.
“These are the real, daily challenges Kansans are facing but not getting heard about,” he said.
Davenport said getting public schools adequately funded combined with a teacher crisis was the biggest issue as it impacts all Kansas families and is a central piece of the economic landscape especially in rural areas.
“Towns will collapse,” he said. “There will be nothing without schools.”
Davenport said city and county governments need to be engaged and invest in childcare with intergovernment partnerships with businesses to retain employees and help the Kansas economy.
“Childcare is one of the most significant issues,” he said. “Childcare costs more than entry level job salaries. It is a probusiness, not socialist, plan that will help the economy and Kansas families.”
Davenport said he plans on advocating for practical solutions and seeking good policies to the common problems that transcend all party lines and will help Kansans.
“The day to day lives of what party we belong to matters less than what community we belong to,” he said.
A former Johnson County government community relations manager and communications specialist for Johnson County mental health who helped found the National Co-Responder Conference during the pandemic, he is now the executive director for the Missouri Center for Employee Ownership and Kansas Center for Employee Ownership, nonprofit organizations. He moved to Kansas from Illinois in 2008 and has lived in Gardner since 2015.
Davenport is the youngest of four children and served as a minister in the Church of the Nazarene for 15 years. He said he wanted to be a pastor since the age of 9, but started to become disenchanted with government processes when he became involved in student government.
“Policies were hindering and antiquated,” he said. “And they impact the practice of how we live.”
Davenport said after experiences with Topeka as he got older he learned they struggled with transparency for years and he hopes to change that.
“It is not right. It needs to change,” he said. “I have a passion for community and data that makes sense and solves problems.”
Davenport said many Kansans, including himself, used to be Republicans but no longer are. He said he believes this background helps him still understand conservative thinking that will allow him to reach across party lines and build coalitions around common issues.
“We can find the common ground once we look behind the policies,” he said. “I think there are things we can agree on to get things done.”
Davenport’s campaign manager Rob Bell, who resides in Arkansas, said he met Davenport when they struck up a friendship during Bell’s podcast the RobbCast.
Max Schmeling, his campaign treasurer, said they had been friends for years from church and had many conversations on politics, religion and family.
“He has always been very articulate,” he said. “He has always challenged me.”
Schmeling said Davenport has strong communication skills and believes he is the perfect fit to represent District 43.
“He thinks logically—and doesn’t rely on party lines and headlines,” he said. “He thinks deeper than a lot of people and is always calm and collected, which makes him super well ceded because of these traits.”
Dave Drovetta, former Gardner mayor of 18 years, said he used to be a part of the Republican Party but the party had lost its way.
“The current representative is no longer representative of District 43,” he said. “The ideology is quite harmful and it is time for a change.”
Drovetta said it was up to citizens and not just Davenport to get out and make change happen.
JJ Briscoe, a 21 year old resident and Gardner-Edgerton High School graduate, said he had met Davenport that morning and had been inspired to attend the campaign kickoff.
“We need change here,” he said. “Change is incremental and grassroot.”
Briscoe said his generation had been through a lot, especially the last few years with the pandemic, and the older generations hadn’t done anything for them.
“We have to be the one to save us,” he said. “It felt so powerless. But everyone can do something to change things and youth need to realize the power they have.”
Davenport said the community was tired of partisan talking points from politicians who didn’t respond to real problems.
“It will take all of us working together,” he said.
Davenport will be kicking off his canvassing Saturday, June 11 and will provide training for volunteers.