Topeka mayor announces congressional campaign

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Democratic Topeka Mayor Michelle De La Isla is launching a race for Congress in the 2nd District.

De La Isla told multiple media outlets she’s running to unseat Republican Congressman Steve Watkins, who already has primary opposition from Kansas Treasurer Jake LaTurner.

De La Isla, who could not be reached for comment Monday morning,  seeks to succeed where Democrat Paul Davis came up just short in 2018 when he lost to Watkins.

Michelle De La Isla

Emily’s List, which played such a pivotal role in Sharice Davids’ election to Congress in the 3rd District in 2018, announced last year that it was targeting the 2nd District.

The group, which backs Democratic female candidates who support abortion rights, announced early last year that Watkins was among 43 Republican incumbents it was targeting in 2020.

Just before Christmas, De La Isla  mailed a one-sheet flier laying out her background in what she described as way of testing support for a potential congressional race.

“I just wanted to hear from people,” she said in an interview a week ago. “It was just an introduction.”

De La Isla said the letter and flier were an effort to see what kind of response she might get if she decides to run for the 2nd Congressional District seat now held by Republican Steve Watkins. She said she mailed about 300 letters.

Last month, the Topeka Capital-Journal was the first to report that she was considering a run for Congress.

The newspaper’s report was followed up with the letter and flier.

“Like many Democrats, I understand what it means to fight with grit and overcome hardship,” De La Isla wrote in the letter.

“I grew up in poverty and I was homeless for two years,” she wrote. “I survived domestic violence and I beat cancer — twice.

“I attended college as a single mother, and I share the heart of every parent who advocates for a child with mental illness.”

Her letter foreshadowed a candidacy in its closing, where she emphasized the importance of bringing people together.

“Serving as an elected official is not about politics — it’s about people,” she wrote.

“I have spent my entire career serving Kansas families, and I am committed to building relationships and working to find solutions to our greatest challenges. I will use my voice to stand up for Kansas values in Washington.”

De La Isla said she was being deliberate in making her decisions, talking to Democrats and Republicans.

“I’m being very thoughtful in the process of who I’m talking to,” she said. “I’m talking to individuals on both sides of the aisle.

“If I decide that I’m going to do this, I think one of things I want to do is be a bridge,” she said.

“I understand our communities need people who are not so much focused on their party, but focused on people period.”

De La Isla was elected Topeka mayor in 2017 with 51% of the vote.

She became mayor after serving on the Topeka City Council from 2013 to 2018.

She worked as the supplier diversity manager at Evergy and previously as the executive director for Topeka Habitat for Humanity.

The Topeka newspaper reported that De La Isla accepted a buyout from Evergy last month.

She also worked as the chief financial officer for Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. from 2005 to 2010.

She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Wichita State University.

De La Isla’s candidacy comes after Democrat Abbie Hodgson withdrew from the race after she had trouble raising money.