Kansas legislator Brandon Whipple hopes to prioritize education, public input as mayor

Kansas Rep. Brandon Whipple, left, and Mayor Jeff Longwell answer questions Sunday during a student-led forum for candidates in the Nov. 5 municipal elections. Whipple and Longwell are candidates for mayor of Wichita.

Morgan Anderson

Kansas Rep. Brandon Whipple, left, and Mayor Jeff Longwell answer questions Sunday during a student-led forum for candidates in the Nov. 5 municipal elections. Whipple and Longwell are candidates for mayor of Wichita.

UPDATE: Whipple will challenge Mayor Jeff Longwell in the Nov. 5 general election.

Brandon Whipple, 37, is not new to politics. But his 2019 campaign for mayor of Wichita marks his first try at the executive branch. 

The legislator has represented District 96 in the Kansas House of Representatives since 2012. A Wichita State graduate, his interest in legislating began as a student senator. 

Whipple, a New Hampshire native, first traveled to Wichita when he was 21 for a year-long mission with AmeriCorps, in which he worked with at-risk youth at Wichita High School South. 

“I fell in love with Wichita and discovered I could afford to attend college at Wichita State University,” he said. “As a first-generation college student, I saw the great potential Wichita offered me.”

Whipple graduated from WSU with his bachelor’s degree in sociology and a minor in psychology. He later earned his master’s degree in liberal studies from WSU, with an emphasis on cross-cultural studies and public administration. 

Finally, Whipple’s doctorate in leadership studies comes from Franklin Pierce University, a private college in his home state. 

During his time at Wichita State, Whipple served as a student senator in the Student Government Association. He said he would not be in the legislature without that experience. 

“When I got involved, I was invited to attend Higher Ed Day at the capitol and lobby for student-centered policy, and that experience changed everything for me,” he said. 

“It showed that normal, everyday people like myself and my fellow students [could] make a difference.”

Whipple’s first run for the state house in 2010 was unsuccessful, but he was elected vice chair of the Sedgwick County Democratic Party shortly afterward. He was elected chair of the county party in 2012, the same year he defeated Republican Rick Lindsey for the District 96 seat. 

Since his first win in 2012, Whipple has been re-elected to the seat in 2014, 2016 and 2018. 

Whipple said he was not originally planning to file for mayor, but decided to after urges from other community leaders. He says he will bring experience and energy to the office.

“I’ve seen how strong local leadership can work with business and state entities to improve the quality of life in our local communities,” he said. 

Whipple said he expects his status as a Democrat to help him in the race for mayor.

“Candidates like Laura Kelly and James Thompson have won the City of Wichita by increasing the number of people, particularly young people and people of color, that voted in those elections,” he said. 

He said that with municipal election turnout so low, it’s important to encourage everyone — especially young people — to voice their opinions in the voting booth. 

Whipple’s wife Chelsea is also a WSU graduate and works as the program director for St. James Episcopal Church. They have three boys together: AJ, 5, Tristan, 4, and Julian, 2. 

Whipple is also an adjunct professor at WSU, teaching political science courses when needed. 

If elected mayor, one of Whipple’s top priorities would be the education system in Wichita.

“Wichita’s biggest export is not wheat or airplanes, it’s educated young people,” he said. “As a father, I want to make sure my boys have the same opportunities to achieve their dreams as I did.” 

As Kansas universities lean toward public-private partnerships to make up for a lack of state funding, Whipple says it’s important to strike a balance.

“Academic integrity must never be up for sale, and protections need to be put in place so the private sector, or a handful of rich investors cannot silence research, simply because they disagree with it,” he said. 

Whipple proposed the state legislature should restore cuts to higher education, with an understanding that universities will not increase tuition. He said this was his top priority as a ranking member of the Higher Education Budget Committee in the state house. 

Whipple criticized current city leaders as “connected insiders who do not spend enough time listening to the people who elected them.”

“Big decisions are being made behind closed doors without public input,” he said.