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  • Writer's pictureTim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

Democrat Eli Woody tying 2nd District campaign to issues germane to Kansans — not D.C. insiders

Eli Woody, a Democratic candidate for the 2nd District U.S. House seat in Kansas, said he wanted to carry the aspirations of working-class Kansans to Washington and provide a counter-weight to the deep-pocket donors who distort political agendas of some lawmakers. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

By Tim Carpenter, Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — Democrat Eli Woody signed up to run for Congress in the state’s 2nd District to offer voters the option of a working-class candidate focused on income inequality, affordable health care, public education and dark money swirling around the political process.

Woody, a former teacher who grew up in Topeka and resides in Kansas City, Kansas, said incumbent U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner had demonstrated a willingness to dive into Fox News’ flavor-of-the-week issues of immigration, confronting big IT companies or attacking President Joe Biden. Woody, who has a 2024 primary campaign opponent in Joseph M. Swain of Peabody, said he was eager to put a spotlight on working-class issues in a general election race against two-term incumbent LaTurner.

“I jumped out of education and into this, really, because I’m tired,” Woody said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “I’m tired of watching politics as usual not benefit most folks. It’s just a game that is played by the rich and privileged. There are a lot of people who, even like myself, are looking for more just regular, genuine everyday folks to represent them in Congress.”

He’s never sought elective office, but considered the 2024 cycle an opportune moment to present himself to eastern Kansas voters. He taught high school English and now works at the nonprofit National Speech and Debate Association. It’s the largest interscholastic speech and debate organization serving middle school, high school and college students in the United States.

Woody said he was up for the challenge of working toward ousting a GOP incumbent — a goal too far afield for 2022 Democratic nominee Patrick Schmidt, even though he spent $1.1 million against LaTurner. LaTurner prevailed with 57.6% against Schmidt’s 42.4%. It was a margin of victory comparable to LaTurner’s defeat of Democrat Michelle De La Isla in 2020. That race followed his primary win over Congressman Steve Watkins, who became embroiled in a voting scandal.

“I’m relying a lot on … working-class folks to have some faith in another working-class person to listen to them and go fight for them in Washington,” Woody said. “I see my elected officials not fighting with the urgency that they need to to address the issues that are in my life. I know that I’m new to politics. And know that I’ve never been a candidate before. But I know that I can listen. And, I know that I have empathy.”

Woody, who earned an undergraduate degree from Washburn University in Topeka and a master’s degree in communications at University of Colorado at Denver, said voters were anxious about the future of K-12 education. He said the debate ought to be centered on the number of emotionally drained students, overburdened parents, overextended teachers and “out-of-touch politicians watching it all happen.”

“It is a massive system that needs a lot of retooling. I think a lot of it, though, has to do with listening to teachers. You never have enough resources. You never have enough time. You never have enough time with parents. Your zip code should not decide your level of success and education,” he said.

Part of the answer to strengthening classroom learning environments was to pay teachers higher salaries, shore up budgets for textbooks as well as feed hungry children.

“I think it’s crumbling,” Woody said. “We’re seeking a devaluing of education generally in favor of, you know, entertainment.”

Woody’s role with the national debate association has been to work with students as diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator — DEI, for short. It’s an acronym relied on by some conservative politicians or news commentators to refer to a politically correct mindset they believe ought to be rooted out of schools, businesses and other organizations.

He said DEI was a label designed to marginalize people and help produce profit by Fox News or Newsmax.

“They can profit off of outrage about that specific group or about that specific topic. So they turn up the volume of hate on their media outlets,” he said.

Woody said Congress ought to raise the federal minimum wage above $7.25 per hour, which hasn’t been modified since 2009. He said the cost of housing, groceries and other necessities outstripped earning capacity of many Americans. In addition, he said, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and president had to make corporations pay a fair share of federal taxes.

“The thing that hasn’t been going up is wages for the working class. But the thing that has consistently continued to increase is corporate profits,” said Woody, who laid blame at the feet of Congress and well-heeled donors. “I am definitely not a superhero. I am not the one person who’s going to fix Congress. But I’m going to join the fight.’

He said the rise of dark-money donations had a corrupting influence in Washington. He said it was “anti-democratic” and often reflected the ideals of extremists.

He said as a member of Congress he would strive to deliver equitable and affordable health care to people without sufficient insurance coverage. He said the cost of medicines was outrageous and pointed to the rise from $5 to $200 the cost of an inhaler he had to purchase for asthma.

“I’m just one example of what people are living through. That’s the reality and it’s insane. We need to be doing whatever we can to make health care more affordable, instead of doing whatever we can to keep the pockets of big harmacy and corporations padded in cash,” he said.

In terms of reproductive rights, Woody said he opposed the 2022 constitutional amendment that would have undermined a Kansas Supreme Court decision finding Kansans had a right to bodily autonomy and to end pregnancies. The GOP-drafted amendment failed by wide margin, despite support from LaTurner and other congressional Republicans. He said Kansans made their voice heard, and the individual serving the 2nd District needed to represent the district on this issue.

Woody said Kansas elections were accurate and unfettered by the fraud raised by conspiracy theorists. In terms of firearms, Woody said he was a 2nd Amendment advocate but endorsed requirements people store weapons safely, undergo background checks and register purchases with the federal government.

“I will defend your right to reasonable and responsible gun ownership. And I think there are a lot of gun owners in Kansas and in this district who are reasonable and responsible gun owners,” he 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

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