Congressman Kevin Yoder serves the 3rd Congressional District of Kansas. He grew up on a farm in Kansas and excelled during his time at Kansas University, living in a suburb of Kansas City and now in Washington DC. Representative Yoder is well-loved and well-respected throughout the region and in DC. He has shared so many great ideas on how to be successful within organizations, what to consider when planning a career and gives us an update on the national budget status (us teens are going to the ones paying the debt so we should care.)
It is a great honor to welcome Congressman Yoder to The Global Townhall. I know his words will raise you up in success, inspire you to excel and drive you to take control of your life.
Maddie Wheat: You served as KU Student Body President as well as president on many other organizations. In the interest of helping teens excel, what attributes do you consider helped people’s confidence in you enough to vote you president and did you have a strategy or a set of behaviors that helped you accomplish this?
Congressman Yoder: Well, I would say I never set out to be student body president and had never dreamed that that was something that I would even attempt to do. When I got to University of Kansas, I found it to be a very big and somewhat intimidating place. I came from a more rural part of Kansas and to come to the eastern part of the state and to a campus of 25,000 students was a bit overwhelming.
So, I decided the best way for me to get the most out of my collegiate experience would be to try to break down the size of the campus into smaller groups. I got involved in a variety of different student organizations to meet people and to gain some real-world experience through the projects that a lot of those groups do. Many of the things you learn, by being involved in a student group on a college campus are the same attributes you’ll need when you are out of college and may need help at a school PTA, church group, civic group or rotary club.
I really started building the foundations of civic engagement and leadership in my early experiences there. Then, along the way, I started kind of becoming a reliable person to a lot of these different groups. I would get up extra early and set up the booth or a table if we had something at an informational fair or something like that. I also diversified my interests, so I was involved in a lot of organizations but I was also involved in a pre-law society and student government. I tried to involve myself in different areas and just became very reliable.
One of the things I learned, and I think this still applies today, is that if you work hard, if you’re dependable, if you are a team player, you get along well with others, and you sort of help collaborate and build on ideas and get things done, that groups are starved for people that are reliable, that will show up and do the things that need to be done. Before long, they start saying, “Hey, you should be running this organization.” I sort of built a lot of those different experiences there, and ultimately, decided to run for campus president.
I think a combination of all those different things made me well-prepared for that and I just have sort of been carrying on that sort of leadership ever since then. From then to my first days as a freshman at KU to today as a United States congressman, it’s been an unexpected adventure that has been a very amazing experience. One that I’m very proud of and have really enjoyed but one that I never really planned on doing, it sort of just happened.
Maddie Wheat: So, when did you know you wanted to be a political leader and did you have a strategy prepared for that once you knew?
Congressman Yoder: Prior to getting into college I interned in the state legislature and I had really enjoyed that and some of the debates that were going on there and some of the relationships that I built. When I got out of law school, I decided to throw my hat in the ring for a state legislative seat in Overland Park.
I had to work very hard, go out and knock on doors every single day. I did so while studying for the bar examination. I took the bar and ran for the legislature. I had a primary election the first Tuesday in August, and I had the bar exam the last two days in July. So, it really kind of crammed together. I learned through all that stress and pressure that the busier you are the more you actually get done.
I went out and I visited with people, I listened to their concerns and I tried to formulate ideas that we could put together to solve some of these problems. I got elected to the state legislature and I spent eight years there representing my constituents in Overland Park and in Leawood, standing up for public schools and economic growth in our state and a lot of things that were important to my constituents.
I really enjoyed that experience and when Denis Moore announced that he was going to retire, I decided that I would try to represent our larger community of the United States Congress. I was very concerned about our national debt and the economy. Some of the big government programs that were coming out were really changing the fabric of the country that I loved so much. So I was motivated to run for the House and used those experiences I gained from those early days back at KU all the way through the legislature and till today, all combined together, to give me a very well-prepared ability to represent a very diverse community.
Maddie Wheat: How do you think teens should prepare themselves in high school and college for a new and rapidly changing competitive workforce?
Congressman Yoder: I think that’s a good question. I think if I were going back through that process and when my daughter is that age, I’m going to really encourage her to, first of all, do what she’s passionate about. I think if you’re in a career that you don’t like or you’re doing just to receive a paycheck it’s going to be very unfulfilling and unsatisfying. So, certainly finding what you like and what you’re interested in is very important.
I would encourage teens and young leaders in our country to look at a variety of different things, to expose themselves to different subjects and different career options so that they have an opportunity to consider everything that’s out there. A lot of folks don’t necessarily do that and I think that’s an important step.
I would also look at where the career growth is. Engineering, science, technology, and math – we are constantly in short supply of doctors, researchers, and different folks that promote the advancement of our economy. I would encourage young folks to look at where the job growth is, where the economy’s expanding.
I see a lot of folks that go through universities, they take on a lot of student loans and they may be preparing for a career that isn’t expanding and growing. Then they spend years trying to figure out how to pay back their debt. I think making sure you are really cautious about taking on debt when you are in college and that you pick a career that is consistent with your debt load and the income you seek to have is important where the job growth is. But ultimately, it’s got to be something you want to do and that may mean trying different things.
As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, you deal with budget and appropriations issues on a day-to-day basis. After the government shutdown and coming up on the deadline for the budget deal, what’s the lay of the land in Washington with the budget?
Congressman Yoder: Well, we had a government shutdown for 16 days, which was a disappointing experience for a lot of us because I don’t think really anybody in Washington wanted the result of our inability to work together to be a government shutdown. But the reality is, we have a very divided Congress, a very divided country, and the leadership has not been presented that would somehow create an agreement between those divided groups.
Right now we have a 17 trillion dollar national debt and many of us think that it is foolish for our country to continue to lurch from crisis to crisis. That we need a long-term solution and one that will not do harm to the economy but also put us on stronger footing long-term. So that’s going to mean looking at entitlement reform, looking at tax reform, and there are a lot of great ideas out there to save tax dollars that we can’t get agreement on right now in the Congress.
Focusing on the causes of our debt are important but I guess to answer your question, January 15th is when our current spending resolution expires. My greatest disappointment with our last spending resolution in October was that it essentially kicked the can down the road and punted this issue to January. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes us getting to the brink of a shutdown or a supposed default in order to put pressure on the recalcitrant legislators to make tough decisions.
So, it may take us going up to that wire again. My guess is there will be another short-term deal or a temporary deal with a promise to tackle these issues head-on later in the year. I’ve just lost confidence that this continual effort to put things off will ever result in an effort to solve the big problems. So that’s why a lot of us have sort of stood our ground and said we’re not going to just go along to get along in Washington, D.C., because we are destroying the economic future of, not only today, but certainly for our kids and grandkids down the road.
Maddie Wheat: Thank you very much for your time and wisdom Congressman Yoder. I have learnt many important lessons from you that will hopefully help me and our readers follow a path of success and happiness too.