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  • Writer's pictureSherman Smith, Kansas Reflector

Community developer who played basketball at the University of Kansas enters 2nd District race

Updated: Jun 19

Matt Kleinmann finishes paperwork to file for office on May 20, 2024, at the Secretary of State’s Office. He is running as a Democrat in the 2nd District race for an open U.S. House seat. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


By Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — Matt Kleinmann remembers looking at his phone one day in July 2017 and watching former Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain vote to preserve the Affordable Care Act with his iconic thumbs-down gesture.


Kleinmann, a community developer in Wyandotte County who at the time was working on a park renovation project in Kansas City, Kansas, realized in that moment that it wasn’t enough to build parks, grocery stores and affordable housing if half of his community lost health insurance. He needed to take a more holistic approach.


“That was sort of a an epiphany for me that I needed to be more engaged politically,” Kleinmann said. “And as I started following a little closer and learning a little more, I started realizing that part of the role of Congress is to bring resources back to the community.”


On Monday, Kleinmann filed as a Democrat in the 2nd District race for the U.S. House.

He was born and raised in Overland Park and appeared in 70 games as a member of the University of Kansas basketball team from 2004-2009, a span that included a national championship. He studied architecture and worked at a firm in Kansas City before pivoting to the nonprofit sector.


Most recently, he was the director of community development for Vibrant Health, a nonprofit working to provide access to high-quality health care for those in Wyandotte County. He is taking a leave of absence to run for Congress.


So far, he is the only Democrat to file or announce a campaign for the 2nd District seat ahead of the June 3 deadline. Former Attorney General Derek Schmidt and former congressional staffer Jeff Kahrs are seeking the GOP nomination.


Kleinmann, who said he grew up a Republican but is now “a little terrified of a vision of America that wants to take the rights away from people,” identified a number of ways he believes he is different from his GOP rivals.


“I don’t believe the 2020 election was stolen,” Kleinmann said. “I believe climate change is real. I believe working families deserve a raise. I believe we need to take care of our children with better child care options, and I believe we need to take care of our seniors so that they can age in place with dignity.


“I believe that local issues we can find common ground on. I know the immigration system is broken, but I don’t believe Kansas is a border state. I believe we have things in our own backyard that we need to fix. And I think that working on what unites us is better than trying to divide us.”


Kahrs campaign manager Rob Fillion said Kahrs was focused on winning the GOP primary.


“Kansans aren’t interested in sending a Democrat to Congress that was chosen in a smoke filled room who will be in lock step with failed Biden policies,” Fillion said.


Kleinmann acknowledged that he faces long odds in a district that appears to be reliably Republican and supportive of former president Donald Trump — especially after the Legislature gerrymandered districts in 2022 in a failed effort to drive Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids out of office.


The new map split the northern half of Kansas City out of Davids’ 3rd District and placed it into the 2nd District, which now snakes from the Nebraska border in the northeast corner of the state to Marion in east-central Kansas and back down to the Oklahoma border in the southeast corner. Legislators preserved the Republican advantage by relocating Lawrence, where Kleinmann played basketball, into the 1st District, which covers the western third of the state and north-central Kansas.


But “there are basketball fans outside of Lawrence,” Kleinmann joked, and the odds are not insurmountable.

Matt Kleinmann kisses his wife, Sangeeta Shastry, after filing for office on May 20, 2024, at the Secretary of State’s Office. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)


The seat is being vacated by incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, who won reelection in 2022 with 57.6% of the vote.


Kleinmann hopes that his message appeals to rural voters as well as those in Kansas City.


“I think there are pockets of folks who just want to see normalcy,” Kleinmann said. “They want to see community building. They just want to have a sense of stability so they can go on about their lives. And I think that is true in Wyandotte, and it’s true in southeast Kansas, and it’s true in the Flint Hills, and it’s true in Atchison. You know, it’s not radical to say we can work together and build up our community. I think that is actually what every person should be saying.”


Kleinmann also pointed out the district’s voters rejected a constitutional amendment in August 2022 that would have taken away the right to terminate a pregnancy.


“I firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose,” he said. “I believe that health care is a human right. And like most Republicans, I believe in small government. I just believe that government should not be in the doctor’s room making decisions about a woman’s body. I’m also very concerned with the push among Republicans for a national abortion ban.”


“I believe that abortion access is critical because it is health care,” he added. “There are people who need abortions to survive. And I don’t believe as a Christian that we should allow people to die because they cannot have access to health care.”


Kleinmann said he has serious concerns about what happened on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, attacked police officers and disrupted the counting of electoral votes.


He said “an extremist wing” of the Republican Party is trying to undermine democracy.

“The moment somebody loses an election and decides the right thing to do is to attack a police officer in the Capitol building, we’ve crossed a line,” Kleinmann said.


This article was reprinted with permission from the Kansas Reflector. The Kansas Reflector is a non-profit online news organization serving Kansas. For more information on the organization, go to its website at www.kansasreflector.com.

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