While much of the nation was immersed in impeachment hearings, Kali Barnett was busy campaigning to fill the Congressional seat currently held by U.S. House Rep. Roger Marshall, M.D. She stopped in Great Bend for a visit with Barton County Democrats and shared the reasons why she is working to make the leap from teaching to politics.
Raised in Garden City, Barnett is the daughter of a third-generation wheat farmer. She enjoyed going to the farm with her dad. They would sing in the truck, and he encouraged her to develop her voice, singing in church and other public venues.
“I learned quickly from a very young age that my voice was a vehicle, and it could be a vehicle for positivity, or joy, or just connections with people,” she said. “I want to be somebody who’s in Washington and is someone that you feel is truly representative of your voice, because for a long time, I felt like we have not had a representative in the first district who has felt like that for me.”
Barnett shared an intimate and heartwarming story of her life in Garden City, which included participation in the Miss Garden City pageant, working hard to earn a scholarship that helped pay for some but not all of her college experience at Friends University. There, her singing instructor encouraged her to become a music teacher. Graduating in 2008, she shared the frustration and pain of starting her career right as the economy took a drastic turn towards recession.
“Shortly after I started teaching is when the economy crashed and shortly after that was the Brownback tax experiment days” she said.
She started teaching in Wichita, and shortly after setting up her classroom, she began receiving emails informing her that 30 percent of the workforce needed to be reduced and music teachers were on the chopping block.
“Between Miss Kansas, and that experience of fighting for my job, that’s when my political career started and I just didn’t know it yet, because I was going to the PTA meetings, and the town hall meetings and the school board meetings and holding up a poster saying music education matters. And here’s why,” she said. “I learned from the time my career started that if I was passionate about something that I knew our community needed then I had to fight for it, because who else would.”
With 12 years experience as a teacher, education is one of the main issues Barnett is fighting for, she said. The nation is losing teachers every year, and it’s unlikely that they will return unless something changes on the federal level to ensure they can afford to teach.
Second and third on the list of issues important to Barnett are agriculture and farming and affordable health care.
Barnett knows what it is like to lose a family farm and what stress can do to a farming family, she said. When she was 17, her family faced hard times, and the land they farmed was sold outright. They had no opportunity to purchase it, and soon after the family was forced into bankruptcy.
“A few weeks later, that’s when my father and I were singing at a wedding, and I’ll just never forget that day there was just something about it. When I finished singing the song, my dad looked at me and said, ”I’m just so proud of you. Thank you for sharing your voice.” And a few hours later, my dad passed away from a massive heart attack. He was 49, so full of life, and joy, incredibly healthy, and it was literally the stress of it all that killed him.”
While current political representatives speak of positive change, she’s dubious.
“I don’t feel it,” she said. “I see the repercussions of what’s happened in Washington over the last few years, I’ve heard some people say it could take 20 years to recover. Right now our farmers are only making ends meet, if at all and it’s because our government isn’t stepping in to take care of problems that they started.”
Barnett has been attending farm events and actively learning all she can about policy in order to help however she can, she said.
Barnett also shared her passion for creating supportive and inclusive communities, valuing people of all races, cultures and lifestyles and creating safe communities for all. She is also a proponent of renewable energy.
Barnett’s visit to Great Bend was hosted by the Barton County Democratic Party.