Kansas’ First Congressional District has not been a strong suit for Democrats in the state in recent years.
In 2018, Democrat Alan LaPolice lost by 38 points to incumbent Rep. Roger Marshall. In 2016, the party didn’t even run a candidate, instead backing LaPolice’s bid as a libertarian when he lost by over 40 points.
But Kali Barnett says her campaign is different.
"I’m working hard to be a new type of leader for the First District, one they’ve never, literally, had the chance to vote for," she said.
The fact that a female candidate is even running in the district is historic — neither major party has selected a woman as its nominee in the past two decades and a woman has never represented the district in Congress.
A Garden City native and music teacher, Barnett comes from three generations of wheat farmers. She recently sat down with Gannett Kansas as part of its 2020 election podcast and story series to discuss her campaign.
Her opponent in the race is Republican nominee Tracey Mann, a former lieutenant governor from 2018 to 2019. The Mann campaign did not respond to multiple invitations to participate in the series.
Barnett said her experience was shaped by watching her family lose their farm growing up. She attributes the stress from that hardship to her father succumbing to a heart attack at age 48.
Ensuring farmers are able to make a living and are competitive in markets throughout the country, as well as around the globe, were a top priority, she said.
She criticized the escalating battle over trade with China, with both countries hiking tariffs on the other’s goods. That has seen farmers confronted with falling prices and diminished markets for their products, at least until the two countries appeared to reach a detente in January.
"I can’t imagine, if my father were alive today, that he would be OK with being used as a pawn for a trade war," Barnett said. "I think it’s [about] creating access to our fair trading markets."
Barnett said she would push to be on the House Agriculture Committee, a panel where representatives from the district traditionally serve, and said she would fight to bring farmers to the table on issues such as combating climate change.
"They are seeing and feeling firsthand the effects of climate change and they know best what is going to work and how we can make a positive change," she said.
Despite her teaching background, Barnett declined to give the federal pandemic response a specific letter grade but was stiff in her critique that more was not done for Kansans.
Another round of federal relief was necessary, she said, as well as steps to ramp up health care access for Kansans to ensure that those without work were still covered.
"We can’t end what we have right now that is helping and protecting so many Americans in the Affordable Care Act," she said. "Do I think it is perfect? No. Do I think that we will ever come up with a perfect health care system? I’m not sure -- it is really difficult to say."
Barnett also called for additional funding for the United States Postal Service. Controversial changes to the agency by Postmaster General David DeJoy have led some to wonder about the agency’s future in rural America.
Ensuring that adequate resources were given to USPS was vital to ensuring that communities in the district would continue to thrive, she said.
"In rural communities we are going to suffer and our small businesses are going to greatly suffer if we don’t take care of the U.S. Postal Service," she said.