WASHINGTON — A former national disability rights advocate on Monday officially kicked off a campaign to unseat Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids in Kansas.

Sara Hart Weir, 37, stepped down as president and CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society earlier this year to explore a campaign for Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District and on Monday planned to officially file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run as a Republican.

Weir’s campaign team includes former Rep. Lynn Jenkins, who represented the adjacent district and was a member of the GOP leadership when Republicans still controlled the U.S. House.

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The Johnson County native said women need to play a prominent role if Republicans are to take back the House in 2020.

“It’s unfortunate that we have the same number of men in Congress named Jim as GOP congresswomen. Just 13,” Weir said in reference to the number of GOP women in the House.

During her seven years with the National Down Syndrome Society, including four as president, Weir was heavily involved in the bipartisan efforts to pass the ABLE Act, legislation that enabled families to set up tax-exempt savings accounts for those with disabilities that wouldn’t affect their eligibility for Medicaid benefits.

If elected to Congress, Weir said she plans to push for policy changes that would enable more choice for Medicaid recipients.

“As someone who has navigated the Medicaid system… for numerous families across the country this is a system that fails people with disabilities,” she said.

Weir still serves as a caregiver for Kasey Kittell, a 34-year-old Lenexa, Kan. woman with Down syndrome who Weir began working with as a volunteer in college. She said this will continue as she mounts her campaign against Davids.

“Her mom would be upset with me if I didn’t,” she said.

Weir, who grew up in Olathe, Kan. and now lives in Mission, Kan., said she conducted a listening tour of roughly 300 meetings around the district, which covers Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami counties, before launching her campaign.

She pointed to a failure to craft a message on health care as a reason Republicans lost the House in 2018 and said she would avoid this mistake by drawing on her experience as a disability rights advocate.

During the interview, Weir only provided limited details about the health care policies she would pursue in Congress — calling for more choice, lower costs and the consolidation of outdated programs.

“I really want to roll up my sleeves and tackle the issues related to health care,” she said.

Davids, 39, beat incumbent Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder by 9 percentage points in 2018 with a campaign message focused on health care. Her 2020 strategy appears to be similar.

“Representative Davids is fighting every day for the things that matter most to Kansans, like lowering the cost of health care and prescription drugs, protecting people with pre-existing conditions, and making sure government is working for the people, not special interests. Her entire focus is on serving the people of the Third District, and that’s what will get her re-elected,” said Davids’ campaign spokeswoman Johanna Warshaw.

Weir said the only thing that she and Davids agree on is that health care is the No. 1 issue for the district, but she slammed the freshman Democrat for “being a yes woman for Nancy Pelosi.”

Davids, one of the first two Native American women to serve in Congress, already has more than $750,000 in her campaign coffers to defend the seat next year in what promises to be a competitive race.

Both Republicans and Democrats are targeting the district in 2020 after Davids flipped the seat last year. Weir, the first Republican candidate to announce, will likely face a primary fight against former Kansas Republican Party chair Amanda Adkins, who has also been laying the groundwork for a campaign.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has repeatedly criticized Weir’s background as a lobbyist for GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical company, early in her career and launched online ads attacking Weir as a “Big Pharma Lobbyist” moments after her campaign was announced.

“The last thing Kansas families need is a pharmaceutical company lobbyist like Sara Hart Weir working to raise the cost of health care and prescription drugs in Congress. With an agenda like that, it’s no surprise that Washington Republicans are determined to prop her up, but Kansans aren’t going to fall for it,” said Brooke Goren, a spokeswoman for the DCCC.

Weir said her work focused on expanding access to vaccines for veterans and “if Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic attack dogs want to attack” her for it “they can just bring it on.”

Asked about President Donald Trump’s divisive rhetoric when launching her campaign shortly after Trump attacked the city of Baltimore as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess,” Weir spoke generally about the need for bipartisanship.

“At the end of the day we are all Americans… and we want what’s best for the country,” she said.

Despite her attacks on the Democratic House speaker, Weir said voters in Kansas are fed up with the partisan fights in Washington.

She praised the passage of last year’s First Step Act, a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill aimed at reducing recidivism, and called for Congress to pursue a “Second and Third Step Act” to focus on helping former prisoners find employment.

On border security and immigration, Weir said she wants to secure the border by upgrading technology and called the work of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement crucial.

“I’ve actually been to the border and I’ve seen that it’s not secure,” she said.

However, she also said that she was strongly opposed to the separation of families and said her former organization worked to reunite a 9-year-old girl with Down syndrome with her parents last year after they had been separated by U.S. officials at the border.

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