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Kevin Yoder's Left-to-Right Political Odyssey

By Marty Keenan
Opinion | April 29, 2010

GREAT BEND, Kan. - On January 16, 1997, longtime statehouse Associated Press journalist John Hanna wrote an article entitled "Regents Budget Scrutinized," about funding for higher education in Kansas.

Hanna interviewed a KU student named Kevin Yoder from Hutchinson, who said he was concerned "whether he, his friends and other young people will be able to afford to attend college." Yoder, a political science major, told Hanna: "Students are always getting new fees."

Thirteen years later, Kevin Yoder is Chairman of the Kansas House Appropriations Committee. And his concern for college students paying "new fees" has vanished.

Kevin Yoder is a bright, successful lawyer. He obviously worked hard to get where he is. While he and his parents are to be commended for his success, Yoder, like all of us, got some government help along the way.

Yoder was a state champion debater at Hutchinson High School. His debate coach, Richard Young, told the Hutchinson News in 1994 that Yoder and his debate partner, Brandon Neuschafer were outstanding: "We ought to get Senator (Bob) Dole to fly these two to Washington for a debate on the floor of the Senate. I mean that." ("Mid-Kansas Debate Teams Place First," Hutchinson News, January 27, 1994.)

The high school debate topic that year was health care. And, according to the article, Yoder and his partner "have taken a keen interest in President Bill Clinton's proposal." Yoder's debate partner Neuschafer pointed out: "We supported a U.S. health care system modeled after Hawaii, and reformed malpractice."

Neuschafer continued: "Through our research, we found that, to us, it's the best health care system we could find. My opinion is that (the Clinton plan) will fail. It takes the bad points of a lot of different systems and puts them together into a monster failure."

I don't know whether the Hawaii health care system is good or bad. My article isn't about whether Yoder was right or wrong to push for the Hawaii model. After all, this is high school debate. I was a member of the Great Bend High School 4A State Debate Championship team in 1978, and I would hate to be held accountable for every thing I said in hundreds of debate rounds.

Instead, this article is about how Kevin Yoder benefited from a superb public high school, Hutchinson High School. And then after graduation, Yoder graduated from another superb public school, the University of Kansas. He received his B.A. and law degree from KU. And the tuition back in the 1990's was a lot lower than it is now, because the legislature back then believed in helping Kansas students get a leg up in life.

After Yoder graduated from law school, a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives opened up in 2002. By then, Yoder had ditched the Democratic party, and ran as a Moderate Republican. In fact, he worked as an intern for Moderate Republican legislators David Adkins and Dean Newton. So far so good. A change in parties, but not a big change in ideologies.

I wish the story ended there. But when Yoder saw a chance to replace retiring Democratic Congressman Dennis Moore in the 3rd district, he took an abrupt right turn that could induce political whiplash. Yoder now rails against the evils of government at Tea Party rallies, and does not care about college students, or K-12 students, any more. A far cry from the Democratic political science student back in the 90's, worried about increasing fees for college students.

I had never heard of Yoder until he picked a fight with my friend Governor Mark Parkinson during this legislative session. After Parkinson had cut a billion dollars out of the budget, Parkinson indicated that we needed a tax increase to avoid additional cuts doing permanent damage to Kansas schools, colleges, roads and infrastructure. But Yoder called Parkinson's ideas "reckless" and "shocking."

Governor Parkinson has the moral high ground, and the veto pen. Parkinson's commitment to the common good wouldn't make him a popular speaker at a Tea Party rally. But I know he is sincere, informed, and has no selfish motives.

There is nothing wrong with switching parties, or switching ideologies, if you do so out of personal conviction. But Yoder's new "Tea Party" persona seems very opportunistic, and doesn't seem to represent his core values.

Rep. Yoder is unwilling to let the students of today have the same quality of education that he received at Hutchinson High School and the University of Kansas. With a Congressional seat within his grasp, this is no time for compassion.

I don't like people who climb the ladder of success through public education, and then want to tip the ladder over on the peasants below.

Yoder's main rival for the Republican nomination is Patricia Lightner, a former legislator who has been a staunch conservative for years. And I commend her for being true to herself, for not being a political weather vane. Lightner deserves the anti-government "Tea Party" votes, and Yoder knows it. She deserves every conservative endorsement out there, because she has lived it.

The way Yoder is raising money, he may well become a Congressman, and then maybe a Senator. Imagine Yoder debating on the U.S. Senate floor, just like his high school debate coach envisioned.


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