Keith Davenport listens to resident’s concerns about the Gardner community. Staff photo by Lynne Hermansen
Keith Davenport, Gardner resident, is running on the Democratic ticket for the Kansas House Representative seat for District 43.
Friday, August 26 he met with local residents at Groundhouse Coffee, 103 S. Elm Street, to listen to their concerns.
The biggest concerns shared were public schools, special education, affordable housing and the cost of living.
Davenport said he began the coffee chat meetings to listen to the constituents he would be serving if he won the seat.
“The title is representative,”he said. “You can’t represent people you don’t engage with. You have to be able to listen and represent.”
Davenport said his wife, four kids and self have been Gardner residents since 2015.
He said he was motivated to run for the house representative seat after reaching out to current incumbent Bill Sutton about an issue and never heard back.
“It motivated me more,”he said. “It’s important having a rep that is responsive and shows up to events.”
Davenport said the moment came in April while driving home on the highway.
“I felt overwhelmed about the unreasonableness of politics,”he said. “So much is happening and it was soul crushing. Maybe I could do something about what’s happening in Topeka.”
Davenport said he never received any feedback from Representative Sutton.
“Residents need someone understanding of what happens here every day and not just ideologies” he said. “Special Ed, veterans, housing. The only place to work on this is the public policy area. You can never have solutions if the Representative doesn’t show up to things.”
Davenport said so many folks were feeling the same way in the community.
“They needed something to rally behind,”he said.
Residents who met with Davenport Friday over coffee expressed their main concerns revolve around public schools and the school district.
Davenport said his wife works in the district and all four of his children attend school in the district.
“I’m worried about public schools,”he said. “I want to make sure their healthy.”
Davenport said many educators are feeling depleted and defeated.
Residents said it would help if they could know what control they had at the state level.
Davenport said the schools hands are tied without state funding.
“They want a representative who will truly advocate and bring schools back better then where it was,” he said . “I think they believe nothing can change at this point.”
Davenport said everyone was experiencing the same tough things in education with no leadership of public education at the state level and 10 years without the full funding of special education.
“We had to sue the state to get funding,” he said. “We only have funding because courts are making them. Districts are getting the bare minimum from the state with no support.”
Residents shared concerns of local fighting, lack of resources, the expanding teacher shortages, lowered standards for teachers, burnout, toxic environments and more.
Davenport said they can’t solve engagement issues with just money.
“The pieces layer on top of each other,” he said. “We need to come up with real solutions.”
Davenport said he didn’t support the State’s proposed open enrollment for Kansas schools.
“Open enrollment at the basic level is bad tax policy,”he said. “Schools are paid for by local property taxes. Kids come in from other communities and the taxes don’t come up with them and it creates bigger gaps and challenges.”Davenport said state legislature continues to try and grab back power.
“We need to give back local control. State legislature continues to try and grab power back,”he said. “What Gardner needs is different than KCK or Colby or Wellsville. Public schools should be a public service for all.”
Davenport said he wanted to work to help with the cost of living and housing affordability, especially with Veterans.
“It impacts people in different ways,”he said. “I know one veteran worried about losing their home because they are worried about their disability benefits.”
Davenport said how do they bring back affordable housing for kids out of college.
“ Some never buy a house,”he said.
One resident said Gardner was the only place they could afford at the time.
Other residents shared concerns of not having control over the property tax market value of their homes.
“Taking away local control has hurt and needs to be given back,” Davenport said.
He said he would like to see tax cuts given to the veteran community. He, also, said economic development can help with the property tax piece and there are many ways economic growth can help decrease the tax rate.
“More businesses and more people in a community—each person pays a little less,” Davenport said. “When Gardner attracts more it spreads the tax burden and expands the tax base.”
He said the long term plan around the County should be for affordable housing and local control.
Davenport said he wants to help people solve their issues and concerns within the community.
“I want interactions with how policies in Topeka effect every day life,”he said.
Davenport said he loves the small town feel of Gardner and wants to serve the area.
“I like the small town feel and access to suburban amenities,” he said. “It’s a nice mix. I like the feel of it and the cool places.”