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Barbara Bollier Is Running for Senate. Her Platform? Congress Is Sick. Send a Doctor.

As Bollier patiently breaks down public health information for her constituents, her potential opponents have been locked in an argument over which one of them least supports transgender rights.

Usually, Bollier’s work as a policymaker with a background in health shows up less in her understanding of medical terminology (though she did casually drop the word “phenotype” in our interview) and more in her explaining why all Kansas should have access to medical care. Her father’s words, “Medicine is too expensive. Healthcare costs too much,” rang in her ears as she wrote legislation to end surprise billing in Kansas. Bollier’s father was also a doctor. Her mother was a nurse. Her husband is a doctor. Her daughter, Anne Marie, is in school…to become a doctor.

“I became a doctor so I could help people and make their lives better and ultimately as an anesthesiologist give them an experience under surgery where they wouldn’t hurt,” Bollier says. “And I went into public service for the very same reason, and that is to take care of people and make their lives better.”

More than a Democrat or Republican, Bollier’s campaign bills her as “a voice of reason.” In Kansas, which is reliably Republican but often moderate-leaning, this makes sense. It’s a title that countless politicians have tried to claim—it’s how conservative publications describe Donald Trump, how the Democratic establishment has described Joe Biden, and how Elon Musk has described himself. “Reason” in politics is subjective. And identifying as “the voice of reason” means that a politician wants to be seen as somehow above politics or not beholden to a particular set of ideologies. That’s not true of Bollier—her aim is not to seem clean of partisan politics but rather to be consistent in her values—ethically spotless.

“What I am most proud of as a woman elected official is that I have always maintained my integrity and always been able to vote for what I know is right,” she says. “I’ve never compromised and I won’t. Sometimes I may be the only person voting a certain way, because it’s what needs to be said and done.” Funding public schools, expanding Medicare, stopping surprise billing—the reason to do these things is not party affiliation, Bollier argues, but because they are the right thing to do.

Announcing that you will heal partisan divisions is, ironically, usually a way for a politician to say, “Everyone except me is bad.” That’s not Bollier’s thing. “We are called to be in community,” she says. “I’m not trying to be all religious, but I do believe we are called to care for each other in society with dignity and honor.” 

That’s part of what goes so wrong with horrors like the police shooting of George Floyd, she says. “We’ve got to start listening to Black Americans and what issues they say need to be dealt with.” Police overreach, she argues, also points to why Medicare and programs like drug rehab centers need to be better funded—“People should be able to get treatment rather than being incarcerated. Our police need to be able to spend their time protecting against violence and violent offenders rather than being mental health providers.” Politics that deals with people violently, that refuse to acknowledge human dignity—that’s just not common sense.

This line of thinking would make Bollier an appealing protagonist in a YA novel, or the kind of person who might deliver a closing monologue in The West Wing. As a woman politician living on the farthest eastern edge of Kansas, however, it’s a recipe for constant criticism. In 2018, when she endorsed a Democrat for Congress, even though she was still a GOP member herself, she was stripped of her position on the Senate health committee—a significant loss for a former physician. (She says she endorsed the person who was “clearly the best candidate.”) During the primary, the spokesperson for Kansans For Life, an anti-choice group, endorsed one of Bollier’s opponents by billing Bollier as “an abortion fanatic.”

She weathers these moments not just with ab-strengthening exercises, but with a different kind of muscle: Six women. A 28-year friendship. They call themselves “Intentionally Being Women Together” (IBWT), and they’re like a book club, Bollier explains, but for the soul. “We take annual retreats to really delve deep into being better people in this world,” she says. “That’s why I’m able to do what I do and run for office—a lot of women shy away from it because of the public exposure and the potential hurt and meanness. And having women who have my back, I just know, ‘I can do this.’”

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