Former Senate candidate to lead state commission

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Former state Senate candidate Stacey Knoell of Olathe has been named as the new executive director of the Kansas African American Affairs Commission.

Knoell replaces Kenya Cox, who announced Tuesday she was leaving as the commission’s executive director.

Gov. Laura Kelly named Knoell to the post after she ran a vigorous but unsuccessful campaign against Beverly Gossage for the Senate last year.

She lost with about 48% of the vote in a district won by former President Donald Trump and Republican U.S. Sen. Roger Marshall.

Knoell said the position will give her the opportunity to get out and listen to the needs of the African American community in Kansas and take those back to the governor’s office.

“Everyone has said this would be a wonderful opportunity to get out into the community and help Kansans,” Knoell said in an interview.

Knoell said the Kelly administration approached her about the position.

Knoell said the governor had supported her candidacy for the Senate and helped her raise money for her campaign

She said Cox left the agency in a healthy position.

“It’s not as if I’m coming in to upset the apple cart,” she said.

“I am looking forward to, in the back of my brain perhaps, helping the African American community in Kansas think about the political power they may have,” she said.

Knoell said her first step is to travel the state and understand the wants and needs of the state’s African American community.

“It’s going to be a learning curve the first couple of months,” she said.

There had been speculation that Knoell might run again for the state Legislature.

She said her political plans are on hold for now, although she wouldn’t rule out running for office again in the future.

She can’t even be certain what Senate district she might end up in after election boundaries are redrawn next year.

“Right now, if I have this opportunity to serve Kansas, I’m going to take it,” she said.

“I’m not saying there’s no chance of running for something in the future, but right now this is my focus,” she said.

Born in Nebraska and raised in Iowa, Knoell went to high school in Kansas City, Kan.

She later returned to Iowa where she earned a bachelor’s degree in arts history from the University of Iowa.

She came back to the Kansas City area to work as a sign language interpreter at Blue Springs South High School and then later taught middle school math.

“Stacey has a proven track record of working hard for her community, and I know she will be a great advocate for Black Kansans,”  Kelly said in a statement.

“She’ll bring a valuable vision to the commission and use her experience to work with public and private partners, stakeholders, businesses, and agencies to reduce inequities and disparities that Black Kansans face every day.”