Jake Davis knows what a lot of you are thinking.
At 28 years old, he's the youngest in the field of nine candidates seeking a seat on the Lawrence City Commission. And he's a musician who plays at Lawrence bars and nightclubs under the name Basin. His full-time job is as a data entry worker at Pearson Government Solutions, and he takes some college classes to finish up degrees that he's been working on since 1996.
But Davis doesn't want people to think he's just some guy who thought it would be cool to say he once was a city commission candidate.
"I think what people should know about me is that I care about this town, and I'm no dope," Davis said.
If anything, Davis said, he likes to learn too much. He came to Kansas University as a National Merit Scholar, but does not yet have a degree after taking more than 170 hours of classes. He said that's because he's changed degree tracks multiple times, focusing on engineering, graphic arts, geology, psychology and now economics.
"I like the idea of knowing something about a whole lot of things," Davis said. "Everything interests me. It is hard to focus on one thing when there are so many things out there."
Spurred by sprawl
Politics and city government are a growing interest for Davis. But not entirely a new one. Davis said that growing up in the Bonner Springs area he saw the growth of the Kansas City metro area up close, and didn't always like what he saw.
"I remember driving down Highway 7 and there used to be this spot that was a nice empty pasture, and then one day I drove by and it seemed like there were a thousand identical homes," Davis said. "I think that is where I got my first distaste for suburbia. Everybody wants their backyards and they don't want to talk to their neighbors. I think you lose a little bit."
Davis said he began to notice that trend occurring in Lawrence in the late 1990s, and that's when the idea of politics first entered his mind. He wishes, though, it was on the mind of more people his age.
City commission candidate Jake Davis discusses his vision for Lawrence
"I know that young people in Lawrence just tend not to vote in city elections," Davis said. "Young people - I hate to say young people because it makes me sound so old - but they see a special about Iraq on MTV and care about that, but they don't understand how these local issues impact them. They don't understand that all issues start at home."
But if a member of the MTV generation could land a seat on the commission, Davis said he thought it would be good for the community.
"Being part of a different generation, I think, might make me a little more open to new ideas," Davis said. "I think I may just have a different perspective about what is important. A lot of people on the commission probably grew up in a time where general suburbia was the American Dream."
Davis said he thought that Lawrence city government had, at times, been too far-reaching.
"The job of government is to provide infrastructure for the people and provide a place where jobs can grow," Davis said. "I don't think it is there to hold your hand or protect you from every scary thing in the corner."
For Davis, the city's smoking ban is an example of the City Commission going too far. He said the city should have adopted a smoking ban that is less stringent because he believes the current ban puts Lawrence businesses at a disadvantage to those in other communities.
Plus, he said it has caused residents to become calloused toward the plight of small businesses.
"It used to be an issue of business rights and we all voted with our dollar," Davis said. "Now, people just don't like smelling like smoke, and they don't care if a business has to lay off people because of the ban. Nobody seems to care now. They would rather see an empty storefront than have a bar that allows smoking."
City commission race 2007
City commission race
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On other issues, Davis said:
¢ The city needs to focus on improving and selling its quality of life issues when trying to attract new businesses to town.
"I'm not a fan of tax abatements at all," Davis said. "They just draw in the type of businesses that will leave once the abatement is gone."
¢ He has a "rabid interest" in new environmental technology, and would like the city to investigate using more of it. In particular, he wants to explore technologies that could capture the large amounts of carbon dioxide from Westar's coal-fired power plant north of Lawrence, and use it to help produce biodiesel and ethanol.
¢ A new library is a "nice idea, but from what I understand, we don't have any money." Davis said he would be supportive of a project if it received the blessing of the public through a citywide election. But Davis said he thought the range of options that the commission is considering for the project should be expanded.
¢ Taking care of existing infrastructure needs to be a higher priority for the city.
"I think there needs to be a shift in our thinking to really concentrate more on our current infrastructure," Davis said. "That has to take priority over giving something nice to the new growth."
The primary will be Feb. 27 when voters will narrow the field from nine candidates to six candidates. Voters will elect candidates to fill three at-large seats on the five-member City Commission when they go to the polls in the general election April 3.
Other candidates in the race are James Bush, a Lawrence minister; Carey Maynard-Moody, a retired school social worker; Rob Chestnut, chief financial officer for Allen Press; Mike Dever, owner of a Lawrence-based environmental consulting firm; Sam Fields, a Lawrence bail bondsman; Commissioner Boog Highberger, an attorney for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment; Michael Limburg, a Lawrence forklift operator; and Commissioner David Schauner, general counsel of the Kansas National Education Association.