Voters in Kansas’ 4th Congressional District head to the polls next week to pick their new representative. Mike Pompeo resigned from Congress in January when he became CIA director.
The three candidates in the special election were chosen at their respective party nominating conventions in February.
The Democratic Party has chosen James Thompson as their candidate. The Wichita civil rights lawyer beat out four other hopefuls for the nomination.
This is Thompson first run for public office. Before he began his law career, James served in the U.S. Army and was a member of the presidential honor guard.
He recently spoke to KMUW's Deborah Shaar about the race and his campaign for the 4th District. Below are highlights of their conversation:
On why he's running for Congress:
Oh, there's a lot of reasons for it. First and foremost, I'm just kind of tired of the politicians that we have frankly on both sides of the aisle that continue to argue with each other like kids on the playground. They never actually get anything accomplished because they're too busy holding grudges because of whoever was in office before. They go back and forth, and they forget about why they were there to represent us, particularly the working class. I grew up poor, and working class people need to have somebody that's voicing their concerns as well.
On being homeless as a teenager:
When I was 16, I lived with my ex-stepfather. He's the only person I ever knew as my dad. I had a five-year-old younger brother and a seven-year-old younger brother. My dad had a job, or thought he had a job, in southern Florida. [When] we got down there, it fell through and somebody had to get a job, and I was the only one that could find a job. So my income was really the only income. I worked at a go-cart track, and I was putting food on the table for my brothers. We would fish out of the canals that they had down there to get dinner. It was pretty rough. I mean sleeping outside, a lot of times you're sleeping on top of the van or in the van. It was a rough couple of months. I wasn't in school, my brothers were not in school and [you] pretty much realize, at that point, you know something's got to change, and that's just not the life that I wanted. [I] took my last paycheck and we went back to Oklahoma. I worked full time and got back to school. I was able to graduate on time, and I'm very proud of that too actually.
On education and school choice:
It's a horrible idea. Public education needs to remain public education. Vouchers are just a way of further segregating the rich from the poor, and we need to get away from that mentality. If somebody has the ability to send their children to a private school then, by all means, they should be able to do so. But public funds should not be used for private education. That is going to destroy the education system.
On economic growth:
The first thing that we've got to do is we've got to modernize our infrastructure. That is one of the areas that I agree with Donald Trump on. We need to make sure that our roads, bridges, airports and railroads are all in working order. Make sure that safety comes first. The other thing that we've got to make sure that we're doing is modernizing our digital infrastructure as well. Making sure we have high-speed Internet access that goes out to our rural areas. They have a problem with people being able to get training in the rural areas, particularly in trades. So having high-speed Internet access would allow people to complete coursework over the Internet and then shorten some of their class time.
On whether he has a shot in a historically Republican district:
We've been really happy with the way this election's been going so far. There are a lot of people that voted for Donald Trump, not necessarily because they liked him, but because they didn't like Hillary Clinton or because they were tired of the status quo. They're tired of establishment politics and they wanted to send a message that they want to change. In particular, with the working class, I mean I think that they have been frustrated and felt kind of abandoned somewhat by the Democrats. That's one of the things I want to make sure they understand, I come from working class and I'm here to protect the working class and protect our unions and protect the people out there that are just trying to make a livable wage and provide for their family. A lot of the people that we're seeing here are tired of ultra-conservative politics. They're wanting us to return back towards the middle.
This is the second in a series of profiles on the congressional candidates. You can listen to part one, a profile on Libertarian candidate Chris Rockhold, here.
Listen to 89.1 FM or visit kmuw.org on Thursday for a profile of Republican Ron Estes.
Follow Deborah Shaar on Twitter @deborahshaar
To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.