Kansas City Star: In battle for Kansas’ 3rd District, The Star endorses a leader who’s focused on governing

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids made history two years ago when she handily defeated Republican incumbent Kevin Yoder and became one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.

Ever since Election Day 2018, Republicans have been eager to take their shot at replacing Davids and reclaiming Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District. But Amanda Adkins, a former Kansas Republican Party chair, now faces a steep challenge in this swing district that continues to inch toward the Democratic side of the ledger.

In Tuesday’s election, voters will choose between two starkly different candidates: the low-key but diligent Davids and Adkins, an energetic business executive with a tough-as-nails approach to campaigning.

While Adkins has mounted an aggressive challenge, Davids’ pragmatic style and focus on bipartisanship are a much better match for the 3rd District, which includes Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Davids is The Star’s choice in this hard-fought race, and voters should re-elect the first-term incumbent.

While Adkins is an executive at health care IT firm Cerner Corp., it is Davids who has been on the right side of the health care debate, advocating for Medicaid expansion in Kansas, working in Washington to preserve the Affordable Care Act and fighting to ensure that those with pre-existing conditions are covered.

Access to quality, affordable health care should not be a partisan issue, Davids said.

“All I’ve seen from my opponent is full-throated support for this administration’s attempts to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act and no plan for how you would make sure that people with pre-existing conditions are protected,” Davids told The Star Editorial Board. “We should be holding the president and the national Republican leadership accountable for trying to rip away health care from millions of people.”

Passing a bipartisan plan for COVID-19 relief should be the No. 1 priority for anyone elected to Congress. Davids knows this. But Adkins has downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus even as Gov. Laura Kelly and other state leaders have sounded the alarm this week, warning that deaths and hospitalizations are surging across Kansas and begging people to wear masks.

Adkins, though, told a different story during a Monday debate sponsored by The Star and FOX4, as she thanked health care providers for “making sure that they’re prepared for what could’ve been a surge, but our numbers here have not been huge.”

On Wednesday, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment reported that the state has had more than 83,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 1,000 deaths since the outbreak began in March.

“Folks have a lot of fear and anxiety about getting sick and also are worried about their economic security,” Davids said. “At the federal level, I know I’m pushing to make sure that we get another relief package. That’s an indication about how serious this problem is.”

Davids, who is the first LGBTQ person to represent Kansas in Congress, has not sought the spotlight in Washington but instead has focused her efforts on behind-the-scenes committee work and the details of writing and passing legislation.

She also has excelled at constituent services, opening an office in Wyandotte County and holding pop-up office hours across the district, including in more rural areas in Miami County.

Adkins, who declined to interview with The Star Editorial Board, is a smart, polished candidate who has little interest in political niceties. She has forcefully tried to paint Davids as extreme and dishonest, but many of her attacks have missed the mark. And Adkins’ attempts to distance herself from former Gov. Sam Brownback after managing his Senate campaign and chairing his Children’s Cabinet have strained credulity.

While Adkins’ experience at Cerner is relevant and would serve her well in elective office, her business-focused approach to combating COVID-19 sounds tone deaf in this moment. She decries “a shutdown culture,” has little to say about stopping the spread of the coronavirus and instead highlights her support for limits on legal liability and a payroll tax holiday — a flawed proposal that won’t help those who have lost their jobs.

Davids still has room to grow in this office. And while there’s something to be said for her understated approach in a Congress that has more than enough brawlers and preeners, this job does require assertiveness and persuasiveness to get things done.

Davids, though, is thoughtful, focused on governing instead of politicking, and keenly attuned to the needs and views of her 3rd District constituents. Davids is the right choice to represent a district that is still evolving politically and demographically, and she’s earned The Star’s endorsement.