A Park Hill High School teacher with some behind-the-scenes political experience of his own is taking on long-time Republican Rep. Sam Graves for the District 6 seat.
With the next election cycle in 2020, Victor Abundis has gotten a jump start on his campaign as the Democratic challenger to incumbent Graves, who by that election will have served 20 years as the District 6 Representative. All of Graves’ time spent in Washington D.C. away from Missouri values is what Abundis said could give him the edge.
Pointing to campaign finance disclosures, Abundis said the bulk of Graves’ contributions come from corporate donors, not individuals.
“All those corporate donors signal you’re in bed with those companies and you’re doing their bidding,” Abundis said, adding that Graves’ support of tariffs are also hurting the Missouri farmers he claims to represent.
Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Abundis got his own start in Washington D.C. working for Democratic Rep. Ciro Rodriguez. Later, working as an AmeriCorps volunteer, he left D.C. for Kansas City and later worked for Legal Aid of Western Missouri. Working in political circles, Abundis rubbed shoulders with several up-and-coming stars of the Democratic Party, including presidential candidate Julian Castro and his twin brother Joaquin Castro, a U.S. Representative from Texas.
“I’m not just some guy who decided to run because he’s mad at the world,” Abundis said. “I have political experience, so I actually know a whole lot about the nuances of government because I’ve worked in it.”
It was those connections that got this high school English teacher on the short list for candidates to run against Graves.
“The DNC (Democratic National Committee) doesn’t want to concede seats anymore,” Abundis said. “They were looking for somebody willing to run in the sixth district and I told them I’d think about it. They no longer want to just concede seats. They want to run candidates who will hit hard.”
After deliberation, this Texas transplant said he wanted to work to represent the Platte County community that has become his home.
“I’m not a rich guy – I grew up in the barrio on the south side of San Antonio,” Abundis said. “So, this is a very grassroots campaign and our donors are individuals. I live here, I know this area, I know the demographics.”
Those demographics are changing, with more diversity in the southern part of the county, in his own Park Hill School District and in the Platte County R-3 School District. The same holds true in other urban areas of the Sixth District, including Clay County and St. Joseph.
“I’ve been hearing from people of color that (Graves) is not attentive to their needs,” Abundis said. “There are a lot of Democrats in Clay County and Platte County and Buchanan County saying that Sam Graves is not representing their voices. I think that’s a problem, because you’re supposed to represent everyone.”
Abundis has taught at Park Hill for 14 years and said while he could have returned to Texas, he instead chose to plant his roots in the Northland. As a Northlander, he feels he can work to represent all citizens living in the fastest-growing areas of the Sixth District.
“No doubt we want to win, but it would be naive if we didn’t acknowledge we’ve got a tough road ahead,” he said.
This is why he got started early, announcing his run in February. Already, he’s raised about $4,000, mostly in small donations, and hopes to raise $100,000 by the end of the year.
“We’re taking it very seriously and the money will show that we can make this a seat in play,” he said, noting that he’s already taken part in some fundraising events and met with the state Democratic committee over the weekend. His plan is to outpace Graves in reaching individuals and small donors, including undecided voters and those who may have voted for President Donald Trump in 2016, but want another option in 2020.
The top of the ticket will draw voters, he said, and while some may say he’s a long shot, recent Democratic wins in Kansas have proven that the times are changing.