On a large, strange campus, Yoder found a simple way to navigate the uncharted territory: Getting involved.
“I saw getting involved in KU’s campus as a way to meet people and sort of break down a campus that was huge — 25,000 people,” Yoder said. “And I found that as you joined groups, as you got involved, you developed families and friendship.”
It turned out he was good at this — at running for office, talking to people, digesting issues and understanding what folks want and how to get it for them.
As the years went by, Yoder steadily moved to the right on the political spectrum — starting as a Democrat in college, followed by a stint as a moderate Republican in the Kansas Legislature, and now a conservative just in time to fit the national mood.
It’s a series of changes some opponents attribute to ambition rather than a true believer.
“Even then (in college), clearly he wanted to be a professional politician,” said Burdett Loomis, a professor of political science at Kansas and a Democrat. “Even then he was trying to position himself — he’s always positioning himself.”
Yet Jay Shadwick, a former Johnson County Republican chairman, countered that Yoder’s one-time status as a Democrat puts him in good GOP company: “So was Reagan,” Shadwick pointed out.
Yoder rejects the notion that his views shift with the political winds.
“I think it was Winston Churchill who said, ‘If you’re not a liberal at 18 you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40 you have no brain,’^” he said. “So you see a lot of people go through this liberal viewpoint in college and as they get closer to the real world or go to graduate school or pay their first mortgage or have to deal with the realities of the economy, cause and effect and those sorts of things, you’re perspective starts to change.”
By 2000, he was firmly Republican. He interned for David Adkins, a moderate Republican state senator, and then in 2002, straight out of law school, served as a state representative from Kansas’ 20th District.
Two years ago, Yoder was named chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
But he swears he’s not running for Congress out of political ambition. Instead, “when the call comes to lead, I stand up.”
“I enjoy the politics of it,” he adds. “I enjoy campaigns.”