There are three Mennonites in the Kansas House of Representatives: Steven Becker (R), 104th district (Hutchinson-Buhler); Don Schroeder (R) 74th district (Hesston); and Tim Hodge (D) 72nd district (North Newton). Anyone looking for a common “Mennonite” personality among these three men is bound to be disappointed. They have very different personal styles.
Becker, who is retired from a full career as district court judge, has the earnest, serious, and grave demeanor of a long-time public servant. His full mustache, short beard and receding hairline lend a certain dignity. He speaks with clarity and passion. He communicates with his supporters on the internet with two-to-three minute extemporaneous video messages. His style is friendly, but marked with a certain charisma.
One of Becker’s main passions, derived from the tenets of his “faith community,” is opposition to the death penalty. He has introduced a bill, HB2167, with fifteen bipartisan cosponsors, to repeal the death penalty. That bill is scheduled for a hearing by the House Corrections and Juvenile Justice Committee on February 13, 2017. Becker’s leadership is critical to the success of the bill.
Don Schroeder, who like Becker qualifies as a “moderate Republican,” is a much more low-key politician. Schroeder’s newsletters and newspaper reports are cautious and non-confrontational. He doesn’t want to be “political.” He is less intent on identifying his own point of view, than on reporting what is going on in the legislature. As far as I know, he is not the primary sponsor of any legislation. He smiles and makes friends easily.
Schroeder says he voted against Governor Brownback’s widely condemned tax policy of 2012. But he has not been an outspoken critic of the governor, as Becker has been. In a recent community forum in Moundridge, Schroeder excused the legislature by saying that the law is very “complex” and would be difficult to change. “Our hands are really tied.” Some of the frustrated folks in Moundridge were not convinced.
Tim Hodge, a youthful Democrat from North Newton, is new to the legislature and is just beginning to establish his profile. In his first campaign, running against the incumbent Republican Marc Rhodes, Hodge came out slugging. He attacked Rhodes for supporting governor Brownback and his tax, education, Medicare and other policies. He has signed on as co-sponsor of Becker’s bill to repeal the death penalty.
Hodge defeated Rhodes by a small margin. He has given new energy to the Democrat party in Harvey County. It remains to be seen whether such a youthful and vigorous liberal Democrat will be able to win the support of the Republicans who are a strong majority in his district. Will he be a one-term politician? At least is already clear that Hodge will carve out his own personal and political style–quite different from Becker and Schroeder, his Mennonite colleagues in the Kansas House.