PITTSBURG, Kan. — Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla, who is running against State Treasurer Jake LaTurner for the District 2 U.S Congress seat, stopped in Pittsburg on Saturday to meet with local Democrats and appeal to still undecided voters.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but I came here [to Pittsburg] the Sunday before I decided whether I was going to do this or not,” De La Isla said. “Pittsburg was the one that said, ‘Do it Michelle!’, and I’m here right now.”
Approximately 30 of De La Isla’s excited supporters gathered at the Pritchett Pavillon in Pittsburg on Saturday afternoon to hear the congressional hopeful talk about her ideas and plans. She touched on everything from agriculture and economic growth, to Medicaid expansion and COVID-19.
“It’s not political,” she said. “The virus is not political. The same way I have yet to meet a political pothole, I haven’t met a virus that chooses to have a favorite party.”
In addition to citizens of Pittsburg that attended the event, a handful of local officials did as well, including Pittsburg Mayor Dawn McNay and Crawford County Commissioner Jeremy Johnson, who introduced De La Isla.
“Talking to her and watching her talk to people is mind boggling.” Johnson said. “Her level of communication and skill at listening and actually talking to people. So often you have the grab-handing politician that’s like ‘oh, that’s nice, moving on.’ But there's not that consideration. There’s not that listening, there’s not that paying attention to your constituents, which is literally your job. Michelle does that.”
Johnson said De La Isla is not like other politicians. He said she actually listens and takes into consideration what the people have to say.
“I’ve seen it over and over and over again when she comes down here,” he said. “Talking to people, listening to their concerns and showing concern for them and taking their concerns into consideration then when she is turning around and making decisions. That is in my mind one of the most important things you can have in a representative.”
De La Isla has been the Mayor of Topeka since 2017. Prior to being elected to that seat, she was on the Topeka City Council and worked in the nonprofit sector. She said she wanted the crowd to know her as a person because she said in the end nothing else matters.
“We’re all people in the end,” she said. “This whole deal of titles is not attractive. We are all public servants.”
De La Isla’s love for the state of Kansas runs deep, she said, even though she moved here later in her life. De la Isla was born in New York and raised in Puerto Rico by her mother and grandparents. She moved to Kansas in the early 2000s where she attended Wichita State University.
“Yes, I’m sorry it’s Wichita state, not Pitt State,” she said.
De La Isla spoke to the crowd about her experiences with homelessness, domestic abuse, cancer and complicated pregnancies where she was urged to consider abortion. She said things haven't always been easy, but Kansas helped her through it.
“I am nothing but the product of people who cared about me,” she said. “I will never forget that I was hungry, and Kansas fed me, and I was looking for a home and Kansas gave that to me.”
After talking about her experiences and ideas, she opened it up to the crowd for questions, something she said is rare, particularly at political rallies.
“It’s the only way to properly govern,” she said. “This doesn’t work if you are not willing to listen to people and really consider what they have to say.”
While those in attendance asked questions about protecting the Affordable Care Act and police brutality, they also asked De La Isla how she felt about her opponent Jake LaTurner’s, “dirty campaign” that has created multiple ads about her alleged failures.
“When they go low, we go high,” she said.
Some were even curious if she was planning on pushing back by running clarification ads or her own attack ads. She said she did not want to stoop to his level.
“That’s just not the way we need to do politics,” she said. “Kansas deserves better.”
When asked what those in attendance could do to help her campaign, De La Isla said a crucial part, especially as the election gets close, is having hard conversations with Republicans who may be undecided or on the fence.
“Our Republican brothers and sisters are just trying to figure out the right thing to do,” she said. “We can’t alienate them. We have to treat each other with compassion, with love, with kindness. We have to talk to each other.”
De La Isla said it's important to treat everyone, especially those we may disagree with, with respect and remember that we are all human.
“In the end, the parties don’t matter,” she said. “Because above being a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, we’re Kansans and we’re Americans.”