Q&A: K-State graduate, Kansas House hopeful talks voting rights, civil liberties

Alex Van Dyke explains his plans at the K-State Collegian newsroom on Friday during a Q&A session with news editor Kaylie McLaughlin. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

Alex Van Dyke, recent Kansas State graduate in mechanical engineering, is running for the Kansas House of Representatives in the 67th District. He recently sat down with the editors of the Collegian for a question and answer session.

Kaylie McLaughlin, news editor: “Why run now, since Tom Phillips has been unopposed since 2012?”

Van Dyke: “I came to K-State in 2008 and in 2012, when he had an opponent, I was still getting my bachelor’s. Then, in ‘14, I was getting my master’s and ‘16 I was starting a career — kind of not ever a good opportunity in there.

“I’ve seen how Kansas has been going, and it’s going in a direction that I don’t like. I have a new family, I have a 3-month-old daughter. I have always … thought that Kansas was a family-friendly state. It’s where you come to raise your kids, and that’s not really a thing anymore, I feel like. It’s really changed a lot from when I was born, and I want to fight to keep it that way and keep families in Kansas.”

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

Van Dyke: “This might come out, so I’m just going to go ahead and say it now: I was born a Jayhawk fan.”

McLaughlin: “Oh, no.”

Van Dyke: “I know, I know. But in 2008, when I came here, … I saw the light and fell in love with the royal purple and I’ve bled purple ever since.

“I came here because of the mechanical engineering department. … I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do, and I saw it as the best way to help people. I have used that degree with my startup company Primary Mobile Med International. We make and retrofit shipping containers for third world medical purposes, and so I’ve used that to potentially help get about 26 million gain access to healthcare.

“Now, I kind of see the best way to help Kansans is to be politically active, be it running for office or organizing the March for Our Lives campaign. I’m active with Mom’s Demand Action. … I feel like that’s the best way to really help my neighbors in Kansas.”

Alex Van Dyke explains his plans at the K-State Collegian newsroom on Friday during a Q&A session with news editor Kaylie McLaughlin. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

McLaughlin: “Why should students care about the election in the two Manhattan districts, even if they are registered in their hometowns?”

Van Dyke: “That’s a really good question, and honestly, when I was in college, I didn’t know who my representative was … especially [not] the district over. I think that’s a big issue. We have this big level of national politics, be it Obama, Bernie, Clinton, Trump, whatever, and it’s really hard for local candidates or even incumbents to really break through that bubble. And yet, local elections — city commissioners, county commissioners, your state legislators — they have more impact on your day-to-day than the president ever will have. That’s why they should care.

“This election, more than any election since I’ve been alive, will affect Kansas. We have a gubernatorial candidate from the GOP whose first priority is to defund education, and that will directly impact every single K-State student, be it small tuition hikes or you see staff having to be let go or moving on to other places where they can be funded better.”

McLaughlin: “You’re a lot younger than most of the people in the Kansas House currently. Do you see that as an advantage at all?”

Van Dyke: “I do for a couple reasons. Like I said, I have a young family. I am recently into my career and I am a millennial. I’m 28 and at least one of those three, if not a combination, is a large portion of Kansans right now, especially in Riley County. I feel like I really represent Kansas, the future of Kansas, and we need voices that represent our interests. We need the young voices, not just the experienced, but we need both in the legislative powers to really move Kansas in a direction that’s good.”

McLaughlin: “What are the issues and policies that you are most concerned about?”

Van Dyke: “I have a few, quite a few. … It’ll take a bit. … First and foremost is education. Like I said, it’s been under attack in Kansas, and we really need to fund our education. I would love to see a universal pre-K. Right now, it is under a tuition base; to put it in more understandable terms, per month is usually another rent or another mortgage to afford pre-school. There have been other instances of universal pre-K that have been successful, and I’d like to implement that. And funding higher [education], I mean, we need it. We don’t need to continue defunding it.

“And then our civil liberties are continually attacked. Especially, one of the reasons that I really got into the race was the adoption bill. Just to give you some background on that, it’s a bill that my opponent voted for and passed through the legislature. It allows state funds to go to adoption agencies that discriminate on parents’ religious views, and it’s state-funded religious discrimination. That makes our state look terrible and it hurts our economy because companies, people leave, we don’t bring in those companies and people that want to work here and it’s just wrong and it’s stepping on our civil liberties.

“Our transparencies and trust with our government. Kansas is one of the most opaque states when it comes to our government, and we have practices like the ‘gut and go’ process which is the entire language of a bill doesn’t pass, it gets stripped out and new information gets put in … and then it gets shuffled through really quickly. If you’re not careful — all the legislative floor isn’t careful — then it gets through really easily. That’s just not how our democracy works, and so democracy is really this huge issue in politics right now, especially for me. Voting rights are being stepped on and we need to make our democracy work the way it was intended.”

McLaughlin: “A recent study showed that less than 50 percent of K-State students actually voted in the primary. … Do you think that this kind of indifference to voting in young people might have a negative impact on your campaign?”

Van Dyke: “It could. It definitely could. I think the bigger impact that it will have is one that matters more: … the impact that it’ll have on statewide candidates and their experience. Your experience here at K-State will be directly impacted by this election. … I don’t have a lot of K-State in my district, it might affect mine a little bit, but it’ll affect their lives and the direction Kansas moves a lot more.”

McLaughlin: “Why was it so important for you to file election on Harvey Milk’s birthday?”

Van Dyke: “Harvey Milk is a great American, a great man. … A big thing is the adoption bill. Like I said, it makes our state just look terrible, and it hit me on a personal level because my treasurer and his boyfriend are my best friends. They are fabulous in every sense of the word, ‘guncles’ to my daughter Athena, and the thought of them not being able to adopt a child one day because of this is just sickening.”

Alex Van Dyke explains his plans at the K-State Collegian newsroom on Friday during a Q&A session with news editor Kaylie McLaughlin. (Olivia Bergmeier | Collegian Media Group)

McLaughlin: “What kind of motions do you plan to make to promote freer elections in Kansas, because that’s kind of a hot button issue these days?”

Van Dyke: “It is, and I love this question. … This is America, this should not even be a question, but it’s being attacked by our state, by our [GOP] gubernatorial candidate and we are making it harder to vote, which is a keystone of democracy. Across the nation, we are making it harder to vote and it doesn’t make any sense.

“Things that I’ll support are things like automatic voter registration, same-day registration and opening up the primaries so that independents and unaffiliated can have their voices heard in the primaries so they can choose which candidate they want to be voting for in the general.”

Dene Dryden, managing editor: “Without going so far as running for governor as an 18-year-old, what are some ways that K-Staters and other young voters in Riley County can become politically active to support better things in the state?”

Van Dyke: “The best thing I can tell you is to go canvas for someone, someone that you agree with their stances on. Doesn’t matter what or who it is, go canvas if you want to be politically active. … That is the best way to get the people elected that you want to see in office. Other than that, there are tons of organizations. … Part of what helps with my age, as you asked, is seeing someone your age, your generation up for election. Fighting for the ideals that you believe in is a lot more of a pull to the polls than having it be someone who is 70 or 80.”

McLaughlin: “Anything else?”

Van Dyke: “I guess I didn’t really give a background on myself. … I did come here in 2008; I got a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a second one in mathematics and then a master’s degree in 2015 in mechanical engineering. I now work at Civic Plus as a software engineer.

“Interesting tidbit about my family life: I met my wife on Tinder, we are a Tinder success story. … We have a beautiful 3-month-old named Athena Jasmine Van Dyke, and she takes up most of my nights when I’m not canvasing.

“One other thing that I wanted to mention [is that] the two main votes that pulled me into the race were the vote on the adoption bill and then the concealed carry reciprocity, which allowed 18-year-olds to concealed carry in Kansas if they had the license in Alabama. … We need to get guns off campus, and it’s driven away students, it’s driven away teachers, it’s driven away staff.”

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.