New Member of the Week: Rep. Yoder's quick rise up the political ladder

Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.) has been building up to this point in his life since he was a child. When he was sworn into the U.S. House three days before his 35th birthday, it was a “dream come true.”

“I’m a farm kid from rural Kansas who found leadership as a way to help people and make a difference in the world,” Yoder said. “This is a dream come true to have the opportunity to serve the U.S. House.”

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Yoder has always had political ambitions. He was student body president in college, and he was the president of the Kansas student bar association for two years during law school. Just months after graduating from law school, he was elected to the Kansas House in 2002. In six years he worked his way to chairman of the state House Appropriations Committee.

“He’s been training to be a professional politician since his sophomore year at KU,” said political science professor Burdett Loomis, who has followed Yoder’s political career as a student and in the state.

Loomis said as Yoder moved up the political ladder, he became more conservative — common for moderate Republicans in Kansas, especially ones who seek higher office.

As an undergraduate, Yoder even worked briefly for the Kansas Democratic Party.

“When I was in college, I probably had a more liberal view of some of these issues, and as I’ve studied and matured and as I’ve researched and saw failures of government growth and spending, I became more and more conservative,” Yoder said. “Like a lot of Americans, I’ve seen the promises of greater spending and greater government involvement not come into fruition, and so, like many of us, I’ve grown cynical of the promises of greater spending and greater programs.”

While he was chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee, Yoder grew so conservative that moderate Republicans turned on him and sided with Democrats to pass a bill raising taxes to make up for the state budget deficit. Yoder had proposed a budget with deep cuts that would not have required raising taxes. Kansas state law requires a balanced budget.

“I spent several years in Topeka, spending each day trying to cut spending, so now I’m here in Washington where the same problem exists on a grander scale. But it’s one in which I feel I have unique experiences that very few of my freshman colleagues have had to do, which is actually get in and disappoint constituencies and have to get out and talk to voters and get them to understand the tough choices,” said Yoder.

Yoder was one of four freshmen Republicans placed on the House Appropriations Committee. He is on three subcommittees: Commerce, Justice and Science; Financial Services and Military Construction; Veterans Affairs.

He said he does not think the Republican-proposed budget cuts go too far, but he said Republicans should not as a negotiation tactic propose cuts with which they couldn’t live.

“There’s been some suggestion that you could vote for things and the Senate is not going to pass them anyway so what’s the real impact — I don’t think that’s right. We shouldn’t support policies that we wouldn’t want enacted into law, but we need to push as hard as we can from the outset because we’re only going to get whittled down from here,” Yoder said.

He doesn’t think entitlements should be touched without American support.

“Many of these programs have public support, most people have someone in their family, whether it’s a mother, a father [or] grandparents on Medicare or on Social Security, so we need to tread very lightly when addressing these programs,” Yoder said. “I think it would be foolish for Congress to just come in and push a proposal without the support of the American people.”

But he said Congress and the president need to start a national dialogue to come up with a bipartisan solution to curb entitlement programs because the current system is not sustainable.

Yoder’s district is fairly moderate and encompasses two-and-a-half counties — Johnson, Wyandotte and a section of Douglas, which includes part of the city of Lawrence, where the University of Kansas’s campus is located. Johnson County is traditionally conservative and has a growing business sector. Wyandotte is Democratic and has a high minority and urban population. Lawrence is also more liberal than the rest of Kansas because of the university.

He defeated Stephene Moore, the wife of retiring Democratic Rep. Dennis Moore, in November with 58 percent of the vote.

Loomis said he would be surprised if Yoder didn’t hold on to his seat, especially with redistricting likely to shrink his district by folding Lawrence back into Kansas’ 2nd district. Johnson County is expected to be one of the few areas where Kansas experienced a population growth in the last decade.