TOPEKA — Paul Davis wants to break through partisan bickering in Congress.
Across the political spectrum, he said, people are shaking their heads and wondering why politicians can't get things done. But during his 12 years in the Legislature, Davis said, he learned to solve problems by forming bipartisan coalitions, and he thinks the same approach will work in Washington, D.C.
The Democrat is running for the 2nd District seat held for 10 years by retiring Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins. The Republican nominee for the seat is Steve Watkins, a newcomer to Kansas and politics.
In a conversation for Capitol Insider, a podcast about politics in Kansas, Davis said he has spent his entire life in the 2nd District and understands the concerns of people there.
"Just this morning I was getting my hair cut," Davis said, "and the woman in the barber shop said to me: 'I'm tired of seeing all of these attack ads. I want people to tell me who they are and what they're going to do to help me.' And I think that's just desperately needed right now. We have so many people in Washington who are disconnected and out of touch with the people they represent."
Four years ago, Davis carried the district in his run for governor. He lost the statewide race to Republican Sam Brownback by about 32,000 votes.
Davis, a lawyer from Lawrence, said Watkins doesn't know the district and relied on his father's cash to prevail in a primary where his Republican opponents questioned his trustworthiness.
"I know people here, and they know me," Davis said. "The title of this job is representative. In order to represent somebody, you've got to know who they are. I think Mr. Watkins is going to have a very steep climb to to convince people that he can represent them."
Two areas where Davis thinks Republicans and Democrats can work together would be crafting an infrastructure package and tackling prescription drug prices.
The same drugs are cheaper in other counties, Davis said. If voters send people to D.C. who are committed to standing up to drug companies, he said, Congress can tell them "enough is enough, you can't keep increasing prescription drug prices by double digits every year."
He also thinks Republicans should united with Democrats in opposing President Donald Trump's trade war. Retaliatory tariffs have rocked commodity prices and the Kansas agriculture sector, but Trump and Republicans still enjoy broad support in rural Kansas.
"There have been some people who have said to me, 'Well, you know, this is their fault — they voted for this,' " Davis said. "I just don't see it that way. I don't see people as Democrats and Republicans. I see them as Kansans. And I think we have a responsibility — I don't care who they vote for, if they vote for me, or they vote for my opponent — we have a responsibility to look out for them."
Similarly, Davis believes the federal tax cut package hailed by Trump and Republicans is harmful to average, working Kansans. His plan involves $90 billion in tax savings through the closing of loopholes. He would pass that savings on to low- and middle-class earners.
Republicans deserve credit for starting the discussion, he said, but the result was similar to the Brownback tax policy that wrecked government services in Kansas.
"The problem is the people who needed and deserved the tax cut aren't getting it," Davis said. "You look at who benefits from that, you have 83 percent of the benefits going to people who make over $900,000 a year. Frankly, there just aren't that many people who make $900,000 a year who live here in eastern Kansas, and they're not people who need a tax cut.
"It really is the same approach that Sam Brownback took with the Brownback experiment: Give tax cuts to the wealthiest people and somehow that is going to trickle down to the rest of us. We all know it just didn't work here, and I don't think it's going to work in Washington, either."