I noticed today that KS congressional candidate Rob Wasinger finally has his own picture up on his campaign web site. Voters can now rest assured that they are not voting for the next Cyrano de Bergerac, but for a guy who actually looks pretty normal. What took so long?
Maybe he needed time to rework his image – perhaps he was concerned that he didn’t look ‘Kansan’ enough for the web?
It’s a legitimate worry for a man who is no doubt discovering the local social scene. I can’t imagine it’s going well for him. You see, in rural Kansas it really matters where you are from – much more than it does in state like, say, California. If you want your neighbors down the road to immediately welcome you with open arms, you don’t just need to be from Kansas. You also need to be from the right county. So does your family – and not just your immediate family. It helps to have a few generations of kinfolk buried in the local cemetery if you really want to fit in. These social expectations do vary somewhat from county to county, and obviously there are huge exceptions – it’s not impossible for an outsider to find a place in a rural community, but it often does take time. It’s not that rural Kansans are less welcoming than other people, but rather that there are important social conventions that just don’t exist anymore outside farm country. It’s no accident that Wasinger states the following on his campaign site:
Rob Wasinger is a native of Hays, Kansas, and a fourth-generation Kansan.
The Wasinger family arrived in Kansas from Russia with the immigration of the Volga-Germans in the late 19th Century, and have worked in farming, ranching, law and public service across the state ever since.
These are not just interesting historical details – his family pedigree, stretching back to the 19th century, really makes a difference to many of those who will vote in this election. That’s why it’s such a problem that he’s campaigning as a local while living like a guy from Fairfax County, VA. You could get away with that in California, but not in Kansas.
Rural social expectations aren’t the only problem. Despite what his website says about his commitment to Kansas, Wasinger has apparently never even voted in the state he wants to represent. Though he claims to have voted from the 1st Congressional district in the 2008 Presidential election, a visit with that office in October revealed that they had rejected his voter application when notice sent to the registering address came back unconfirmed. A visit with the same office in late November confirmed still no registration – and he had never voted in Ellis County history. So did he vote in the 1st district, or didn’t he? It sure looks like he didn’t – so why did he claim otherwise?
Rob Wasinger says he’s ‘moved back home to Hays.’ Why is it then, that he’s renting a house from his Aunt (a registered democrat) while his wife and nine children remain hundreds of miles away on the East Coast?
Phone calls to his ‘new home’ in Kansas have only resulted in visits with his aunt – also his campaign treasurer – and a refusal to provide another phone number to reach him. ‘Just leave a message and I’ll get it to him’. Is he paying rent to his aunt, or is his campaign paying his rent given that the house apparently doubles as his campaign headquarters? Wouldn’t this be a violation of campaign finance law if it was so?
There have certainly been other people who returned to Kansas after a stint on Capitol Hill; however, they haven’t often been well received. Jim Slattery, the U.S. Senate candidate in 2008, garnered only 36% of the vote. Slattery was tagged with the carpetbagger label even though he was a former congressman and maintained voter registration in Topeka for more than two decades. He owned his home in Topeka, but like Wasinger he lived and worked inside the Beltway – and that’s what people remembered. Pat Roberts is another example. Unlike Wasinger, he was not only born in Kansas but went to grade school, high school, and college in Kansas. That helps. He left Kansas to serve in the Marines for four years and then spent five years in Arizona working for various newspapers. He then went to Washington to work first for Senate Frank Carlson for two years and then for his predecessor Keith Sebelius for eleven years. He carpetbagged into Dodge City and the district to run in 1980; although his registration was in Kansas, it was then outside the 1st district. He was successful probably because he had long worked as Sebelius’ chief of staff and had traveled the congressional district regularly.
When we moved to Kansas as kids from California, my sister used to joke about hitting “the Yellow Brick Wall” in social settings – we all went through a few awkward moments when people discovered we weren’t locals. (And we voted in our district!) I think it might have been different if we had attended the local high school and been involved in high school sports, but that wasn’t an option for us. It was an option for Wasinger, but his family chose to send him to a boarding school in Boston when he was in high school. With well over a decade spent on the East coast, and an $800,000+ house in Fairfax Station, VA (Pictured above – it’s where his wife and nine children still live), I’ve little doubt that Wasinger is becoming well acquainted with that Yellow Brick Wall. I just hope his potential constituents are paying attention.