In wake of November elections, Johnson County political groups see swell of people saying they’re interested in running for office

MainStream's "Stand Up and Run" event at Colonial Church in Prairie Village earlier this month. Photo via MainStream Coalition on Facebook.
MainStream’s “Stand Up and Run” event at Colonial Church in Prairie Village earlier this month. Photo via MainStream Coalition on Facebook.

Last month, the MainStream Coalition, the group that works to amplify the voice of moderates in Kansas politics, put out notice for an event they titled “Step Up and Run,” a workshop for people who were interested in the possibility of becoming candidates for office.

“We expected 15-18 people for a small round table discussion and had over 200 RSVP,” said Executive Director Brandi Fisher. “We [put out seating for 200] and it was basically standing room only.”

Indeed, Fisher says, the fallout from the November elections appears to have spurred a group of people who had largely stood on the sidelines of politics to consider entering the fray.

“I think there’s so much energy and anger about what’s going on in Washington and anti-Trump sentiment that people who have never been involved are trying to plug in,” she said.

It’s a trend other local political operatives representing groups on both ends of the political spectrum say they’re seeing as well.

“Since November, I think everybody’s seen an uptick in interest,” said Marc Baratta, who recently took over as chair of the Northeast Johnson County Conservatives. Baratta said that “both parties have done an excellent job of turning off lifelong members” in recent years, and he believes the polarizing atmosphere around national politics has sparked a greater interest in local office. He said his group, which tends to support the positions favored by conservative Republicans in Kansas state issues, was preparing to train candidates with the kinds of workshops that MainStream has organized.

“We’re interested in the local level,” Baratta said. “But we respect that [local elections] are non-partisan. We’re conservative, yes, but there’s a significant amount of independence from party politics. We’re more focused on a set of principles.”

As for the political parties, they report increased interest in this fall’s non-partisan city and school board elections, too.

“It’s an off year for the main elections, though this is the first year we will have fall elections for city council and school boards,” said Johnson County Republican Party Chair Mike Jones. “I think due to the changes in Washington people are either excited or nervous …and want to be involved.”

Jones said he’s noticed an increase in the number of college-aged people reaching out to the party with interest in working on campaigns since November. Neighborhood-level groups affiliated with the party will be organizing training sessions on how Republicans can get involved in local politics, he said.

On the Democrats’ side, it’s a similar story.

“Getting people to run for local office is often like pulling teeth, but in the last 90 days that has changed dramatically,” said Johnson County Democrats Vice Chair Tucker Poling. “We’ve been flooded with eager potential candidates. Hundreds of people have contacted us.”

Legislative update forums organized by the Johnson County Democrats that typically have 50 or so people attend have seen crowds of more than 150 in recent weeks, he said.

“The best part is that most of these people are brand new to politics, so we’re getting a lot of fresh blood into the party,” said Poling.