‘Put Kleinmann in’: Why this MU fan is glad to see KU hoops player’s bid for Congress | Opinion

When former Kansas basketball player Matt Kleinmann announced this week on social media he filed to represent Kansas’ 2nd Congressional District, I replied to his Instagram post: “Big Red! Let’s go!!!”

That’s not an endorsement of his campaign (and I’m not even a Kansas voter), but I’m genuinely excited for the Wyandotte County community developer. Even though I am a lifelong fan of the Missouri Tigers, it’s easy to root for this former KU Jayhawks basketball player. In Wyandotte, Kleinmann has worked with community leaders there to address food insecurity, disparities in health care and other quality of life issues for county residents.

On Monday, Kleinmann became the first Democrat to file for the seat currently held by Republican U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner, the two-term GOP incumbent who is not seeking reelection. But Kleinmann is no shoo-in to win the August primary. Rumblings are that fellow Democrat and former U.S. Rep. Nancy Boyda may join the race.

“There’s a chance we will have a primary,” Jeanna Repass, chair of the Kansas Democratic Party, told me this week.

Three Republicans have announced bids to replace Turner, including former Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt. Kansas Livestock Association president Shawn Tiffany and Republican Jeff Kahrs are also running in the GOP primary.

Boyda, once a candidate in the 2020 race for the U.S. Senate to represent Kansas, would make a formidable challenger for Kleinmann. He’s never run for public office but has experience developing community programs in Wyandotte County.

“I want to bring people together and build community,” Kleinmann told me over the weekend. “I’ve committed my career to that.”

Prior to his announcement, Kleinmann was director of community development for Wyandotte County’s Vibrant Health, a nonprofit health center in Kansas City, Kansas. He’s taking a leave of absence to run for office. Vibrant Health serves some of the county’s poorest residents.

Nozella Brown is chair of the new Vibrant Community Development Corporation Kleinmann helped organize. Both are on the board of El Centro, Inc. She’s witnessed firsthand Kleinmann’s boots-on-the ground approach in underserved areas. Based on his selfless community-first work, Kleinmann would make a great U.S. representative for residents in eastern Kansas, Brown said.

“That’s what a politician is supposed to do, right?” she said. “Matt has never had his own agenda.”

KU won every game Kleinmann scored in

As a walk-on at the University of Kansas from 2004 to 2009, Kleinmann enjoyed cult status among the KU faithful. Often during blowout wins, the KU student body at Allen Fieldhouse implored head coach Bill Self, “Put Kleinmann in!”

After redshirting his first season on campus, Kleinmann played in 70 games over four years. Kansas won every game in which he scored, according to the KU Athletics website.

But it’s not Kleinmann’s prowess on the basketball court that drew me to the 6-foot, 9-inch redhead. It’s the work he’s done in Wyandotte County in recent years that compels me to believe he’s an excellent candidate for public office.

Over the weekend, I met with Kleinmann over coffee in KCK. He told me his intent to run for Congress. On Monday, he made it official. His platform includes commonsense approaches to quality health care for all, affordable housing and child care, and clean energy.

In a video announcing his campaign, Kleinmann said: “I am running for Congress because I have spent my career building up communities alongside working-class Kansans, and I know the values that define us. We know the value of our labor, we show love to our neighbors, and we’ve leaned on each other through the good times and the bad.

“But right now, the needs of everyday Kansans are overlooked in a national agenda that doesn’t address our unique challenges. Our hospitals are struggling, our rents are rising, our schools and teachers are under attack, and our workers are left behind by laws that favor big corporations.

“As Kansans, we must turn away from extremism and start building bridges. Between our rural towns and city streets, we have more in common than we realize. We can build a stronger Kansas that works for everyone, no matter who they are or where they are from.”

Alana Cloutier of Humboldt is chair of the 2nd District for the Kansas Democratic Party. She told me she’s had several conversations with Kleinmann over the last couple of years about her experiences with rural Kansans, and she believes he’s a viable candidate.

“There are two types of people in politics — listeners and talkers — and Matt is one of the best listeners I know,” Cloutier said. “The work he’s done in Wyandotte County translates well to addressing the same kinds of issues we have out here in rural Kansas. Matt truly cares about local issues, and the people of the district.

“Matt’s background in community building has also meant that to succeed you need to bring a lot of different kinds of people to the table. Regardless of party affiliation, everyone wants to be heard, so I really hope Matt’s message of unity and community breaks through, because a lot of people are tired of the division in politics.”

I have a feeling Kleinmann would bring a sensible approach to politics. Even if he is a former Jayhawk and I’m a fan of KU’s hated rivals.