Six Democrats and a Libertarian running for Rep. Kevin Yoder’s seat in Congress fielded questions on a range of issues from DACA to health care at Saturday’s Town Hall for Our Lives. But among the most notable moments from the event, which drew an overflow crowd to St. Andrew Christian Church in Olathe, was a question posed to the absent incumbent.
Midway through the forum, moderator Kevin Kinsella, a debate teacher at J.C. Harmon High School in Wyandotte County, turned to a cardboard cutout of Yoder that had been propped up on the stage.
“Do you intend to continue to accept money from the NRA?” Kinsella asked before waiting a beat. “His silence tells me all I need to know.”
Asked after the forum whether Yoder would continue to accept donations from the NRA, Yoder’s office would not provide a direct answer.
Campaign spokesman C.J. Grover said that the campaign had not “received any contributions from the NRA this cycle” but did not respond to a follow up asking if Yoder would accept contributions from the NRA moving forward.
Yoder’s critics have pointed to his significant campaign receipts from the NRA and gun lobby as evidence that he’s not committed to serious gun reform efforts. An investigation by Politico found that Yoder is among the top 10 recipients of gun lobby money currently in the House of Representatives.
Grover counters that the total receipts from the NRA itself are lower than what have been shared by activists on social media.
“We have received about $19,000 in total contributions over four congressional election cycles which is less than half of the total $40,000 which the NRA could’ve donated to our campaign in that time period under federal law,” Grover said.
The student organizers said they were frustrated by their attempts to engage with Yoder ahead of Saturday’s event. The students did not learn Yoder was not planning to attend the town hall until they read about it on the Shawnee Mission Post. Two of the students arranged a brief visit to his office to hand deliver another invitation to the forum on Friday, but say they were rushed out of the office after arriving and asking to see the Congressman. (Grover did not respond to an inquiry about whether the students’ account of their experience at the office was accurate).
Grover said that Yoder would be willing to meet with the students in the future, but indicated that the town hall was “hijacked by forces that want to politicize” the Parkland shooting. Here’s Grover’s full statement:
These students absolutely have the right to have their voices heard, but Saturday’s last minute event will by hijacked by forces that want to politicize this tragedy and use it as a political wedge issue. Kevin is more than happy to meet with these students to continue a community discussion about what changes in policies would create a meaningful impact on their safety. Their voices have significant value in this debate and he looks forward to hearing their perspective.
Turning a serious, important issue into a political rally is the wrong approach to solving our nation’s toughest problems. Since the Parkland shooting, Kevin’s been focused on solutions like lifting the ban on gun violence research at the CDC, enhancing the background check system, new funding for armed resource officers and other deterrents, and getting new regulations banning bump stock devices. As he’s said, doing nothing is not an option. And Congress has followed through with action.
Yoder’s office also pushed back on the students’ contention that he had not participated in a town hall for more than 700 days, pointing to event organized by the Kansas City Star last August. Attendance at that event was limited to about 100 people selected by lottery.