Sharice Davids broke a lot of new ground in her win over incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder in the Kansas 3rd Congressional District. Davids, a Democrat, will be the first openly gay Kansan, and as a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress.
She spoke with Steve Kraske, host of KCUR's Up To Date talk show, about her historic win and her plans for when she takes office.
STEVE KRASKE: This has got to feel a little surreal, does it?
SHARICE DAVIDS: It does, actually. It feels very surreal to have woken up this morning and to be the congresswoman-elect is certainly exciting, but it is very surreal.
KRASKE: Now, you won 53 percent of the vote to Kevin Yoder's 44 percent. How does that margin of victory compare to what you were expecting? Or did you have any expectations for the outcome here?
DAVIDS: Well, I would say that I guess I didn't have expectations, necessarily. I just knew that we needed to just keep doing what we were doing, that we needed to keep knocking on doors. We needed to keep making phone calls and just try to connect with as many people as possible, and that we also needed to make sure that people were able to get out and vote. Sometimes that is easier and sometimes it takes a bit more work, and we definitely put in the work to make sure that we helped to get out the vote.
KRASKE: It's still a 9-point win in a district that traditionally has been fairly Republican. That's pretty amazing.
DAVIDS: Yeah. I think that we have a time right now where people are just, I mean, we're interested in making sure that everyone's voices are heard. And I think there are too many people who, you know, they feel like they showed up and the decision's already been made or their representative hasn't been or hadn't been listening to the constituents. That was so much of what we heard when I was talking to people and when our volunteers were.
KRASKE: You told me previously on Up to Date that you want, and I'm quoting here, "new leadership across the board when it comes to your party and the house." The GOP would love to have speaker Nancy Pelosi as a weapon two years from now in the 2020 campaign. Can you see any way that Nancy Pelosi wouldn't be political poison for the Democrats?
DAVIDS: That's an interesting framing. I think right now, I guess even just the way that we've been thinking about and talking about how politics is being done is part of why I say we need new leadership at the table. You know, the idea that we can get away from partisan politics is part of why I think that people were excited to elect folks like me (and) Laura Kelly (as governor of Kansas). When I talk about getting new leadership at the table, I mean we have to make sure that we've got people who are coming to the table who are willing to talk to Republicans or Democrats regardless, because we're supposed to be there to represent our constituents and not just our political party.
KRASKE: What issues do you want to tackle first once you've settled in, out in Washington?
DAVIDS: Well, certainly health care. Because that is the thing that I hear about every single day. It's funny to say — I was going to say we're done with the campaign trail now, but we're moving into a place where we have to make sure that I'm focusing on the issues that people told me about over the last eight or nine months: health care, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, making sure they're not getting priced out of plans, making sure that we're bringing down the costs of health care, prescription drug prices. Those are the things that I know I'm going to have to take with me when I go to Washington and should be the top of the priority list for addressing. Also, money in politics is such a foundational issue and effects the way decisions are made in all the other areas — health care, education. I think that will also be something I'd like to make sure is at the top of the priority list.
KRASKE: Who are you looking at as most likely being able to work with in the House? And do you know many folks who you'll be serving with out there?
DAVIDS: I know that I'm going to have the opportunity in the next few weeks to start to really build some real relationships with folks. At this point I've had quite a few conversations with Congressman (Emanuel) Cleaver. He helped me just in terms of trying to make sure that I understood some of the ways that things work, and I'm looking forward to working with him of course, because he's the counterpart here in the metro area. And then I'm excited about the idea of getting out there and seeing a lot of new faces and also figuring out, regardless of whether somebody is a Republican or a Democrat, figuring out who are the people who are interested in addressing some of those health care issues and money in politics issues that I was just talking about.
KRASKE: Final question. You're a woman, a Native American, a member of the LGBTQ community. What perspective does that combination give you as you head out to Washington to represent the 3rd District of Kansas now?
DAVIDS: I think it just helps, because those are all parts of who I am in the same way that being a first-generation college student, coming from a family with very little financial resources, all of those experiences add to my ability to recognize that we all have to work hard, we all have to do so much to be able to have opportunity, and just trying to make sure that we all have equal access to that opportunity. I think it really helps with that perspective and with listening to people who have different experiences than I have.
KRASKE: You know, I've got to be honest with you. Six months ago, I didn't think you had much of a shot. And here I am saying goodbye to you as Congresswoman-elect Sharice Davids.
DAVIDS: I appreciate it, and I look forward to talking to you again.
Steve Kraske is host of KCUR's Up to Date. Follow him on Twitter, @SteveKraske.