By Amanda Carney
It all started in early June when Patsy Terrell died. Kansas District 102 in the House of Representatives no longer had a representative. Jason Probst then stepped up and took on a whole new role. Probst became the new representative of the Kansas District 102 in the House of Representatives in June.
Probst had a lot to learn before the legislative session began.
A Reno County native, Probst attended Nickerson High School and later attended Hutchinson Community College.
“HCC provided me with a better education than any other school I have attended,” Probst said. “I had professors who believed in me, invested time and energy in me and made me feel like I had something valuable to contribute to the world,”
At age 19 he was expecting his first kid, a daughter, Erica. He later had a son, Mitchell, who is a current HutchCC student. Probst knows all about hard work and providing for a family.
Probst was long-time journalist and opinion writer at The Hutchinson News before becoming a politician.
Amanda Carney: How do you get more you people interested in voting, especially in non-presidential elections?
Jason Probst: This has been a difficult challenge. Voters seem to get excited about presidential campaigns, when in truth those local elections – city council, school board, state representatives – have a much more direct affect on voters’ lives. My approach is to help people understand how important these elections are to them, and how much more weight their vote carries in local elections. There have been elections here in Hutchinson that have been decided by fewer than a dozen votes.
AC: What can improve the relationship between politicians and the media?
JP: I think there needs to be some effort on both ends to make the relationship less adversarial. The relationship between the media and politicians is like any relationship – it needs to be fair and mutually respectful, and it requires nurturing from both sides. In this position, I will make mistakes. I am certain I’ll do something, or support something, unpopular. I’d hope that’s not the only time I hear from the media, because I feel like I’m doing a lot of positive work as well – much of which will likely go unreported. On the other side of things, politicians need to fairly recognize that journalists have a duty to keep the public informed, and that they’re simply doing their job, which is also very important to a free society.
AC: How important is it to fund public education?
JP: It’s vitally important to fund education. If we don’t properly educate and invest in the next generation of producers, business owners, leaders, caregivers and workers, we are asking for trouble in the future. We need to have honest, and difficult, conversations about what that education looks like going forward and how to balance those costs with all the other demands on taxpayers, but there should never be any question that education is an investment in the sort of future we hope to see – and we’ll most likely get what we pay for.
AC: What challenges do you you face being a rookie politician?
JP: There is a steep learning curve, that reaches into a variety of areas. I’ve had to consume a great deal of information from a number of people who have expertise in different professions. I’ve had to learn how to manage a very intense schedule – one that includes attending public events, reaching out to constituents, meeting with people who work in state government, and other community leaders who can talk to me about what’s going on in our community. Also, since being a legislator is considered a part time gig, and the pay matches, I’ve had to put a lot of effort into finding various contract jobs to provide some income to pay my bills. But I never expected it would be easy, particularly if it’s to be done the way I think it ought to be done.
AC: What shaped your political views?
JP: My life. I grew up relatively poor. Neither of my parents graduated high school, so the idea of going to college was a foreign idea in our household. By 19, I was about to be a father. I worked in a restaurant and made very little money.
I didn’t have health insurance. I worked like crazy to make enough money for my young family, and we often didn’t have enough. I worked jobs I didn’t like. I sometimes worked two jobs I didn’t like.
In those early days, we relied on public assistance to get by, to provide food and health care for my child. But over time, things got better. I attended college in the evenings, and worked my way into a better career.
Over the years, I feel I’ve more than repaid the help I received early on – and that early investment in my family likely changed the course of my life, and the lives of my children in a positive way. All of those experiences shaped the way I see the world.
I know firsthand how difficult it can be to keep your head above water, and I know how hopeless it can feel when year after year all you’re doing is working to survive. I’d like to help people have better opportunities to thrive, and create ways for more people to find more wealth.
This, I think, is what creates a more robust economy in which we all can participate and prosper.