Q&A: Representative Carlin discusses being a Democrat in Kansas, importance of education

Sydney Carlin, state representative, answers a question at the Kansas State Collegian newsroom. Carlin visited Kedzie Hall on Friday, April 20, 2018 for a Q&A with the Collegian's assistant news editor Kaylie McLaughlin. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Sydney Carlin, representative of the 60th district for the Kansas House of Representatives, discussed serving as a Democratic representative in a primarily Republican state, representing a highly-educated population and going to school to get a degree as a mother of four.

Kaylie McLaughlin, assistant news editor: “Why did you decide to run for office?”

Carlin: “I ran for the city commission because I was interested in relocating the jail from near the Catholic school to another spot in town, and I worked on that for 12 years before we moved it. We finally did get it moved, but I was involved as a community volunteer on trying to change something.

“I was an activist. I ran for county commission, and I lost in the primary by 100 votes. … Six months later, I got a few calls, and they wanted me to run for city. I ran for city commission, and I won a four year term.

“In ‘98 I ran for the House, and I didn’t win. So, I ran again in 2002. An interesting thing happened. I was doing really well with the first race, and the newspaper called me and wanted to know where I got my degree. I didn’t have one, so that didn’t go well here; I needed a degree to represent K-State. Two days after the election I came and enrolled in school and finished my degree, which was about a two-year deal.

So, I got my degree in social science very proudly because at the age I was, my youngest graduated from college one semester behind me. It was quite a challenge for me to get back in and finish. That’s why I decided to run, because I was involved and people were asking me to run.”

McLaughlin: “What is it like being a Democrat representative in a red state?”

Carlin: “We sit in a fun booth sometimes. When I first went in, we had 49 people when I went in the House in ‘03. Kathleen Sebelius won. We won the Treasurer’s office. We won the Secretary of State. … It was kind of a major sweep for Democrats, but we had 49 members in the House. That’s not enough to be half, so we’ve always had to work hard to get our bills heard and to get our bills voted on.

“I’ve been very successful. I’ve had probably about 18 bills, maybe more, passed, but that was doing it by committee process where I would write the bill, take the bill in and introduce it as a committee bill. The committee would then vote on it, and they would make changes. It would go through in the name of the committee. My name wasn’t on it, and that was okay with me. … I’m not going to put my name on it where someone can say, ‘That’s a Democrat, I won’t put that bill in.’

Sometimes you get left out, but I’ve been very successful in working with Republicans always to get my bills heard and passed. It hasn’t been an insurmountable challenge; it’s just been a challenge.”

McLaughlin: “Since you work a lot with agricultural committees and appropriations, you probably work a lot with farmers and budgeting. In regards to that, how do trade wars and tariffs implemented on importable and exportable goods negatively impact the agricultural industry?”

Carlin: “We have had a real downturn in the agricultural community in the last three years. The ag industry has been down. It wasn’t necessarily trade wars — uncertainty, perhaps, about the threats of NAFTA being pulled and so on and so forth.

“This latest tariff that the president imposed on China has caused an immediate reaction from China that they want and that they’ve imposed, already, a 178.6 percent tariff on our sorghum going to China, and there’s others that are going to be affected. … I think that we always hope that our president uses great caution in making decisions that affect us as citizens. I don’t know whether that occurred in this case or not.”

Rafael Garcia, editor-in-chief: “What is important to the community of Manhattan, and how do you represent that in the statehouse?”

Carlin: “It’s hard to get to know everybody. I try to get to know students as much as I can. … The education level sets us apart, truly. … There are a lot of people here who do jobs that don’t require a lot of education but have a good education. I think that is one of those things about this community that sets us apart from many of the other communities, not all.

“That’s one of the biggest bones of contention, and that’s why I believe so strongly in education and higher education because it is my community. … In an educated community there’s a lot of difference in opinion. We don’t jump on the bandwagon as much here.”

McLaughlin: “What do you think is the biggest problem facing Kansas today?”

Carlin: “I think we’ve got to decide who we want to be as a state, where we want to be in the middle of this country. Do we want to be leaders, do we want to be at the bottom, do we want our test scores to continue to be high?

“Studies show us that our test scores have dropped in our K-12 as the money has dropped. … When you cut programs and you cut opportunities for students, the learning goes down, you miss something. … So, we’ve got to decide who we’re going to be. I think that’s the challenge.

“It’s interesting because the public isn’t the one to decide that. They are the ones who should decide it, and they better get engaged about who they vote for, what they want of them and what they expect. They need to communicate with them. …

“We took a tour of highways out in the Salina area with the Department of Transportation, and they showed us roads that were failing, interstates that are failing and showed us how quickly they totally deteriorate once that starts. When you see a crack and you don’t fix it and get it taken care of, you’re going to have major destruction, and that’s where we are on highways.

We have decimated the state of Kansas in the last seven or eight years, and we have to decide as a community how to fix that.”

McLaughlin: “Why did you decide to file for election by petition?”

Carlin: “That gives me a chance to get out into the community, to reach out and ask people to support my race. I’ve always done that, and I do that so they know that I’m running and so they can say, ‘I wish you wouldn’t have done this or that, or I think you’re doing a good job.’ … It gives you feedback.”

McLaughlin: “After several years of serving in the state legislature, have you ever considered running for higher office?”

Carlin: “I have considered it. I’ve often been asked to run for other offices, but I have not made that decision to do it.”

McLaughlin: “What do you wish K-State students in particular knew about you?”

Carlin: “Just that I’m accessible and that I’m willing to spend time with students, and I love it when they come to see me at the capital and tell me what they are doing. …

“I’m accessible, and I’m interested. I have grandkids your age, so I know what your lives are like, a little bit, and how they’re different from mine. …

“I just value my education, and it wasn’t easy to get. As I said, I was a mother of four kids when I got my degree, and all of them out of the house by the time I finished. But I used to go to class six hours at a time to get hours while I was raising the kids.

I lived on the west side of town, and there was no bus, so I had to drive. I had a car, that wasn’t an issue, but I also had little kids that had all these schedules and getting them everywhere and then getting in the car and coming, parking and walking ten minutes, I just didn’t have time to go to class. It was really hard, so I struggled to get my degree.

I understand your struggles. I know that you all are working different jobs and trying to get good grades. … I just want you to know I care.”

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.