PARKVILLE, Mo. — Only able to stay for a short time, former Missouri secretary of state Jason Kander helped kick off a day-long festival held Saturday, Aug. 26 at English Landing Park.
Northland Progress hosted its second event this year and entitled it “In for 10.” The group bills itself as non-partisan and wants to help bring open dialogue about politics in the Northland to voters.
The most recent event in Parkville aimed to encourage residents on the need register to vote and discuss the importance of voting rights in Missouri and the country.
Kander, who recently lost a bid for the U.S. Senate, has since formed a group called “Let America Vote,” which works to eliminate voter suppression laws that impact people based on “their race or ethnicity, gender, age or income.
After the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Kander enlisted in the Army National Guard and served as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan before being discharged as a captain. He was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 2008 before being elected as Missouri’s Secretary of State in 2013 and pushed for voting rights in Missouri and worked to ensure fair ballot language.
“I was your secretary of state for four years here in Missouri while we had the super GOP majority legislature, and I’m going to tell you how the GOP voter suppression playbook works,” Kander told the crowd. “It’s a non-partisan event, but I’m going to talk real. That’s who’s doing this. Step one: they undermine faith in American democracy; step two: they put up obstacles to vote; step three: they put up obstacles to the obstacles.”
Kander takes issue with what he sees as a political strategy coming from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
“They pretend that it’s about voter fraud,” Kander said. “You are statistically more likely as an American to be struck by lightning then you are to commit voter information fraud, so what they pretend is that this is a policy debate between the parties of the country. It is not.”
Ultimately, Northland Progress’ goal would be to help unite citizens across the country. That’s why Kander believes in the importance of events like “In for 10.”
“If you turn on cable news right now or if you look at social media, it feels like people are pretty far apart; it feels pretty polarized,” Kander said. “But I’m telling you, that is not the case. That’s not what’s really going on out there. We are so much closer to one another than what we realize, and that’s why we have the responsibility to carry this momentum to get things done.”
A number of keynote speakers were invited including Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, Missouri state representatives Jon Carpenter, Lauren Arthur, Mark Ellebracht, along with Northland Progress vice president Martin Rucker II and Sean Soendker Nicholson from the Clean Missouri Initiative. All spoke during the festival with bands including The Naughty Pines, The Whiffs, The Kansas City Bear Fighters, Hi-Lux and American Slim performing in between.
Blake Green, president of Northland Progress, introduced the group as a grassroots, non-profit focused on several defined issues including public school funding, infrastructure improvement, environmental responsibilities and voting rights, which he called the most important civil rights issue of our time.
“It’s unfortunate that in 2017 there are those out there that don’t want to see the rule of the people; they want to see their rule of the people,” Green said. “They don’t want to have everyone’s voices heard, only a select few, so that’s why we’re here today to protect the right to vote in which so many have sacrificed for on foreign and domestic soil.”
While trying to keep a profile as a non-partisan group, Northland Progress could only get Democratic politicians to speak despite invites to other Republicans. Green said the group believes voting right are a non-partisan issue.
Kander even spent some of his time talking about Trump’s “failed presidency” and used his claims of voter fraud during his campaign as the genesis of the current problem.
“They’re trying to make people believe that democracy doesn’t work because if they can make people believe democracy doesn’t work, if they can undermine faith in American democracy, then folks aren’t going to vote and they can put up barriers to vote and make it harder,” Kander said.
Kander closed with a story from his time in Afghanistan and issued a final call to get residents registered to vote.
“I say, let the other side try stuff like messing with the rules, trying to make it harder to vote,” he said. “Let them be the ones who want to divide people; let them be the ones who are pushing folks apart, and we can be a unifying force — a unifying force that gets everybody registered to vote, that turns everybody out and makes our democracy work and believes in it because the truth is that the truth is on our side and the wind is at our back and if we all work together then we will save the American dream.”