For a 37-year-old, Jason Kander’s job experience really runs the gamut – from Army captain, to Missouri secretary of state, to president of Let America Vote, an organization he founded last year to combat what he considers to be a dramatic increase in voter suppression.
Now the rising political star has logged another career accomplishment with the release of his new book, “Outside the Wire: Ten Lessons I’ve Learned in Everyday Courage.” And he’s hoping to add one more job title to his resume in the months to come as he runs for mayor of Kansas City, Missouri.
“I’ve very excited about the prospect of being mayor of my hometown,” Kander told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh on Monday, a month after formally kicking off his campaign. “Our town’s experienced a lot of progress over the last several years, and I want to make sure that progress continues, and I want to make sure that everybody in my city can see it and feel it.”
The conversation took place just ahead of Kander’s visit to St. Louis to discuss his book Monday evening at the Ethical Society of St. Louis.
A big theme of the book is the idea of leaving one’s comfort zone, and Kander pointed to his work in Jefferson City – first as a state legislator – as an example of what that has looked like in his own life.
“When I first got to Jefferson City as a state legislator representing Kansas City, I’d just come from doing anti-corruption, anti-espionage work – investigations, that kind of thing – in Kabul, in Afghanistan,” he said. “And then I found myself in Jefferson City [in 2009], and obviously I was a great deal safer, but I found that there was plenty of anti-corruption work to be done.”
He told Marsh that such work was not something that “either party” welcomed.
“I was one of the only folks there who was refusing to accept personal gifts from lobbyists – I wasn’t self-righteous about it or anything, I wasn’t that loud about it, I just wasn’t doing that,” Kander said. “And I was saying we should change a lot of these rules. And there were people who would say things to me like, ‘Well you know, you’re right, and we should do all that, but I don’t want to lose my chairmanship,’ or even, in some cases, ‘I don’t want to lose my parking spot.’ And so they wouldn’t take on the establishment in either party.”
He also pointed to his run for secretary of state in Missouri as evidence of “going outside of the wire politically.”
“All the polling showed that well over 70 percent – close to 80 percent – of Missourians disagreed with me about [not] requiring a photo ID in order to vote,” Kander said. “I feel very strongly about it … but my team said, ‘Hey, it would be great if you would just side with the Republicans on this.’ And I thought they were wrong, and I refused to.
“And it turned out that a lot of people, even though they disagreed with me on the issue, saw that I was genuine about it, saw why I believed it, and voted for me even though they disagreed with me on the issue. And I use that in the book to just sort of demonstrate that if you’ll get out of your comfort zone, you have the opportunity to make a difference.”
When asked about his impressions of the current goings on at the national level, Kander said that the momentum is presently leaning strongly toward the political left.
“There’s just no doubt about it if you look at the special election results, the way Democrats have been over-performing,” he said. “What I try and remind everybody, though, is that the ‘blue wave’ that people speak of, it’s not a weather event. You can’t sit back and watch your local [meteorologist] come on, and they’re not going to tell you, ‘Well there’s a front of Democratic enthusiasm and progressive activism – they’re going to mix together and all of a sudden a bunch of folks are gonna win and the [U.S.] House is going to switch hands.’
“That’s not how it works. You make a wave, and you do it by going out and knocking [on] doors and making phone calls. And that’s what I’ve been encouraging people to do.”
Another topic that comes up in Kander’s book is the role of money in politics, something he said he’s worked on “a great deal” over the years.
One of the stories he tells is a look at the many fundraising meetings that a political campaign typically involves – particularly when it’s a major, highly competitive race – and how much of a candidate’s time is spent on money matters.
“If you spend 96 percent of your time with folks for whom America has worked out great,” Kander said, “there’s no way you’re getting a good, accurate picture of what people are going through.”
He hopes to take the system in a direction “so that politicians spend the vast majority of their time with people who could never get on the schedule of the people who politicians currently have to spend their time with.”
Kander also touched on his efforts with Let America Vote, indicating that the time he spent serving as Missouri’s secretary of state first prompted his focus on voting rights.
“I saw the GOP voter-suppression playbook up close and personal,” Kander said. “And it’s got three parts to it, three steps. Step one, they undermine faith in American democracy. Step two, they create obstacles to voting. Step three, they create obstacles to the obstacles.
“Now, historically the way that’s been dealt with is in court, and that’s still really important. But what has changed is that with President Trump taking office, he’s appointing the judges, and he also put Jeff Sessions in charge of the Department of Justice, which means the United States government flipped sides from being on the voter’s side to the vote suppressor’s side in every major case.”
Let America Vote’s aim is to expand the argument “beyond the court of law and into the court of public opinion,” Kander said, “so that’s what we do – we create political consequences around the country for politicians who make it harder to vote.”
What: Book Signing and Discussion with Jason Kander
When: 7 p.m. Monday, August 13, 2018
Where: Ethical Society of St. Louis (9001 Clayton Rd., St. Louis, MO 63117)
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary Edwards, Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.