Politics & Government

Bollier launches U.S. Senate campaign after 2018 switch from Republican to Democrat

A Kansas lawmaker who left the Republican Party last year now hopes to become the first Kansas Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades.

State Sen. Barbara Bollier launched her campaign for U.S. Senate on Wednesday by promising an independent approach. She condemned dysfunction in Washington as she seeks to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Roberts.

“I’m doing it to be a voice of reason … Washington is broken right now. It is a mess and I think Kansans deserve a senator who will put politics aside, and I’m all about common ground and common-sense solutions,” Bollier said in an interview.

Bollier, of Mission Hills in Johnson County, is the fourth Democrat in the race and the ninth candidate overall – joining a sprawling field that includes Republicans Rep. Roger Marshall and former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. In the Democratic contest, she will have to overcome serious campaigns by former federal prosecutor Barry Grissom and Manhattan Mayor Pro Tem Usha Reddi.

Bollier became a Democrat in December 2018 after years of clashes with Republican leadership and after endorsing Democrat Laura Kelly for governor. At the time, she cited President Donald Trump as a factor in her decision, saying “he is our president, but he is not representing my value system remotely.”

During an interview Tuesday, she didn’t go so far as to support Trump’s impeachment, but she voiced support for the impeachment inquiry underway in the House. “If we’re doing something like this, we should do it in a non-partisan way,” she said, adding that the allegations are serious and “no one is above the law.”

Bollier, 61, entered the Kansas House in 2010 and was elected to the Kansas Senate in 2016. She graduated with a medical degree from the University of Kansas School of Medicine and completed a residence in Houston in anesthesiology.

She retired from practicing medicine in 1999. She has emphasized healthcare issues throughout her political career and has been a vocal proponent of Medicaid expansion in Kansas.

Healthcare will be a key issue of her U.S. Senate campaign as well. She called the unaffordability and inaccessibility of healthcare a top issue.

Her focus on health could draw her into the debate among Democrats over Medicare For All — the idea that Medicare, which provides health coverage to older people, should be expanded to cover all or nearly all Americans.

“I am not supportive of Medicare For All mandates. That is not the way to go. I support maintaining Medicare and finding a path to have a public option that people can buy into,” Bollier said, adding that people should be able to keep their private insurance if they are happy with it.

Bollier’s support for a public option appears to be a difference between her and Grissom, a former U.S. attorney who said he wanted to focus on expanding health care access and affordability when he announced his Senate bid in July.

During her time in the Kansas Senate, Bollier has attempted to advance so-called red flag legislation that would allow judges to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

“Let me be clear first. I support the Second Amendment and that sometimes gets lost,” she said Tuesday, before adding that “we have a problem with gun violence that is causing a public health issue.”

She noted strong support among Americans for universal background checks on gun purchases. A Quinnipiac University poll from May found 94 percent favor background checks on all gun buyers. The results match previous polling that also found high levels of support for expanded background checks.

Bollier’s decision to enter the race comes as the Democratic Party seeks its first Senate seat in Kansas since the 1930s. Some Democrats think they may have a shot at the seat if Republicans nominate Kobach, who lost the race for governor in 2018.

That view is shared by some Republicans. David Kensinger, a Kansas Republican strategist, said last week that nominating Kobach “probably costs us the seat.”

Bollier contends she can compete against whoever the Republican nominee will be. But she also said she doesn’t run against opponents, but “runs for” an office.

She said that across the country, people are tired of partisan fighting. She compared herself to Kelly, saying she wants pragmatic solutions to problems.

Bollier said she had discussed her potential candidacy with both Kelly and former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who remains an influential figure among Kansas Democrats. But she answered “no” when asked if Kelly had encouraged her to consider running.

Bollier said she had spoken with Sebelius on the phone “just to understand what’s at stake, as far as what you have to do” but added she was “talking to everybody” ahead of her announcement.

“To say I’m going to run one day and go out there – this is a huge commitment to the people and I want to be prepared for them,” Bollier said.

Kansas City Star reporter Jason Hancock contributed to this story

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