Bret Keisling is joined by Keith Davenport, passionate employee ownership advocate and candidate for Kansas State House District 43, who shares why he’s running, how his background as a conservative and pastor has prepared him, and how he’d promote EO to invigorate Kansas’ economy and communities.
Bret has endorsed Keith Davenport and personally donated to his campaign and encourages the EO community to do so because electing pro-EO candidates anywhere helps all of us everywhere.
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About Keith Davenport
Keith Davenport on Jobs :
“We need stable jobs with wages that can keep up with inflation and the housing market in our community. This means we need policies that inspire entrepreneurship, support small businesses, and make way for employee ownership as an exit planning strategy for retiring business owners.”
Keith is a Candidate for Common Good
"The Love-in-Politics Pledge calls faith-full voters to support candidates who pledge to comport themselves in their public and political lives in ways of love consistent with 1 Corinthians 13.
As people of faith, we do not seek to elect only those who believe as we do. We believe that our faith calls us to advocate for the common good for all."
Mini-cast 184 Transcript
[00:00:00] Bret Keisling: Welcome to the ESOP Mini-cast. Thank you so much for listening. My name is Bret Keisling and as it says on my business cards, I'm a passionate advocate for employee ownership.
[00:00:15] A lot of progress ESOPs and employee ownership have made in the last decade or two has been the result of dedicated lobbying efforts among elected officials on the statewide and national levels. The importance of working with governments is evidenced, not just through the work of our national associations, like The ESOP Association, The NCEO, and ESCA, but among the many state centers, bringing employee ownership to individual states centers.
[00:00:41] Keith Davenport is the executive director of the Missouri Center for Employee Ownership and the soon to be formed Kansas Center for Employee Ownership. They're both part of the Employee Ownership Expansion Network, EOX, of which we have spoken of many times on the podcast. The only thing better than reaching out to elected officials would be to have candidates running for office who are versed, supportive, and allies with employee ownership.
[00:01:10] Apart from the two state centers that I've mentioned, Keith is also a candidate for the Kansas State House District 43 and in that context, I wanted to bring Keith Davenport on the podcast to talk about his candidacy and talk about Kansas House District 43.
[00:01:25] Bret Keisling: Keith Davenport. Thanks for coming on the Mini-cast.
[00:01:28] Keith Davenport: Thanks, Bret. Thanks for having me.
[00:01:29] Bret Keisling: At some point, folks can check our archives and there will be a full episode with you regarding your day job, so to speak...
[00:01:35] Keith Davenport: Sure.
[00:01:35] Bret Keisling: ...at state centers. But in the meantime, you're a candidate for House District 43. Why are you running?
[00:01:41] Keith Davenport: So, I really believe that we need a state government that understands our daily challenges, things like access to childcare, good schools, and jobs that can keep up with the rising property values and inflation and we need someone who will take our voice from District 43 to Topeka, our state capitol, every day. So, that's why I filed to run for Kansas House District 43.
[00:02:02] I grew up a conservative, though. Thinking about my first election, I voted for George Bush for a second term and really grew up leaning in that conservative way and now I'm running as a Democrat, so it's been a bit of a journey there. But I really think I took an interest in politics in 2016. I really started diving into public policy and what it meant and started engaging in the democratic process.
[00:02:25] So, I've tried to reach out to a lot of the Republican representatives for our community and, unfortunately, was met with a lot of form letters, copy and pasted replies, and even some people in our community wouldn't reply at all. And so, that was frustrating to me. I really felt like this isn't how democracy should work. We should have elected officials who are available to constituents, who understand what they're going through, and who respond even if they don't always agree on everything.
[00:02:52] So, that really motivated me to lean into running and to represent the city of Gardner and the surrounding areas in Kansas, which is the primary area for District 43.
[00:03:05] I think about when I first graduated college, I was serving as an associate pastor at a church here in Kansas. It was part of the Church of the Nazarene and one of our primary theological themes is holiness and living a holy life. And I won't go into theology now, but I was in the Sunday school class, and I was in a room full of people who have been a part of the church for a long time, and I asked them, what does "holiness" mean? I was surprised in that moment that nobody could really answer that question. No one felt confident enough to say an answer out loud. So, in that moment I felt inspired to try and make holiness something, that theological theme, something more understandable.
[00:03:43] So, I got a group of experts from across the country, different ages, different perspectives on the issue. I got them together and we wrote a book and we got it published, talking about how to understand this complex issue in a very understandable way. And that's really what I want to bring to Topeka when it comes to Kansas politics, is how can we take sometimes very complicated public policy and make it understandable, so everybody knows what's going on and they understand how it impacts their daily life. And so, that's why I'm running for Kansas House 43. I'm running for our common good. I think it's for the good of our community.
[00:04:14] Bret Keisling: Keith, I love your varied background, and I love the journey that your life has taken has brought you to employee ownership. And anybody who follows employee ownership to any degree knows that it is probably the only bipartisan issue that any of us think of, especially in a divisive time. So, I love the fact that everything from your pastoral work previously, your work in employee ownership now, where the hallmark of employee ownership "we" grow the pie and "we" share the pie. And I think in civic discussion, and you know, there's no sugar coating it, there isn't much of a "we" in the United States these days, the collective we, all of the we, as it means to us.
[00:04:58] And in that context, it is refreshing to hear you come from a place where you have been in the conservative space and, again, that doesn't mean what it used to mean. You know, I had a conversation just the other day where I was speaking very fondly of the days when George Bush talked about compassionate conservatism. And I thought that that was very powerful, and it meant a lot to me at the time. And that is missing a lot in the current discussion. So, I love that, and I love that vibe.
[00:05:26] I want to ask you about how employee ownership will fit into what you plan to do in the state house and if I can, let me share some data and it can maybe help frame your answer, however you'd like. But what we knew anecdotally, during the pandemic and talked about it a lot on the podcast has now been verified by data.
[00:05:45] Employee owners were four times less likely to be laid off during the pandemic. Employee owners were three to four times less likely to have wage reductions during the pandemic. And Keith, as you know, what we extrapolate from those numbers are a lot of employee owners did not find it necessary to avail themselves of community food banks or other very important safety net issues, because employee ownership is good for the communities. So, with that sort of background for our listeners, how does employee ownership fit into what you plan to do as a state legislator?
[00:06:15] Keith Davenport: Yeah, those statistics are exactly part of my motivation here. And I think it's helpful to talk a little bit about what employee ownership is for folks who might be just joining this podcast for the Kansas political side of things today, who maybe haven't listened a lot of your other episodes.
[00:06:29] But employee ownership, there's a couple of different business models that enable the employees of a business to actually become the owners. And a lot of times, and thinking about how this applies in Kansas, is that it's really an exit strategy. So, business owners who are looking to sell their business, sometimes they have a hard time finding a buyer for their business. Or the only buyers they can find are folks who can take their business out of their community, or it will take it out of the state, and it leaves their employees who have worked with them, oftentimes for decades, to build up their baby, this small business or this large business at this point. And so, a lot of business owners across the country are considering employee ownership. So, it might be an ESOP, it might be a worker cooperative. And now just a little sliver of businesses across the country are thinking about Employee Ownership Trusts.
[00:07:14] And so, these models have tax benefits for the selling business owner. They keep the jobs and the business in the community, which helps the local economy and the statewide economy. And then also provides business ownership for the employees themselves, which helps address wealth inequities, helps them generationally to climb in that socioeconomic ladder. And so, it's really a win for everybody all around.
[00:07:40] And then in Kansas, in particular, what really thinking about it from a policy standpoint, is it 54% of privately owned businesses in Kansas are owned by somebody 55 or older. So, in the next decade, we're talking thousands of business transitions that are going to be occurring as these business owners look to retire.
[00:07:58] Project Equity estimates that there's about 27 and a half thousand businesses in Kansas owned by somebody over 55. It includes more than 300,000 employees and they generate more than $27 billion in revenue annually. So, it's a significant chunk of Kansas's overall economic picture. And if the state doesn't do something to address this, the challenge we're going to have is businesses closing or leaving the state, which nobody wins there. Nobody in Kansas anyways. And so, we're really trying to think about what can the state do to make employee ownership more of a viable option for business owners?
[00:08:33] One of the initiatives that Laura Kelly has championed in these last couple of years is Main Street Kansas, which is a strategy that helps rural towns in Kansas that have this robust main street, develop long-term economic strategies to keep those main streets as robust as they have always been. I'm really thinking about rural economic development in this case. And I think that employee ownership might find some space in that Main Street Kansas initiative to make transactions and transitions to ESOPs and worker cooperatives more viable and for business owners to be more aware of them. I think there's a lot of potential for some public private partnerships in this and the state government partnering with local governments and economic development councils, and chamber of commerce to really champion this as a business retention strategy as a part of the broader Kansas economic development strategy.
[00:09:22] Bret Keisling: And it's so important, Keith, and again, it's hard data that we see in communities around the United States where there's strong employee ownership, where the jobs stay in the area. And you talk about the different business models and it's not our purpose in this brief conversation to go into all of those. But the bottom line is the employees own the company and it is not quite so easy to sell off to a competitor when it's all of your colleagues who are working in it together. But employee ownership also adds to better citizenship because what we do, and again, in these very difficult times, once you understand that we all need to be on the same page and one of the great regrets that I have in the political climate today is that we're just locked in that nobody's making progress on anything in so many different areas that you begin to understand that we were all on the same page and employee ownership is, is just a critical, critical part of that.
[00:10:15] Keith Davenport: You're exactly right. And that's why employee ownership historically has had bi -partisan support. And so, Republicans tend to like employee ownership because it really highlights still the individual efforts and productivity in the midst of the business world. It's a very pro-business policy. And Democrats have tended to like it because it addresses wealth inequities. Really employee ownership is a bi-partisan winning policy that can take Kansas into the next level for business retention and academic development.
[00:10:41] Bret Keisling: Keith, I'm glad that you pointed it out and you know, there are numerous, numerous examples and forgive me, I'll use a Pennsylvania example, but our Republican Senator who's retiring, pat Toomey, is very conservative and always has been fiscally conservative and he's a strong supporter of employee ownership.
[00:10:59] On the other hand, probably the most prominent supporter of employee ownership in the country, and has been for quite some time, Bernie Sanders from Vermont, who is not a conservative Republican Senator...
[00:11:09] Keith Davenport: Right.
[00:11:10] Bret Keisling: And part...
[00:11:10] Keith Davenport: Exactly.
[00:11:11] Bret Keisling: ...of the other things that we can talk about and there are, I don't get into my own political views on the podcast, because again we work with people across the aisles and across the spectrum. And for me, my advocacy is employee ownership. So, anything that loses me half the audience doesn't help what I want to do, but one of the things that I like to point out to people in conversation: In employee ownership, wherever you are on the political spectrum if you see someone that isn't on your side, so to speak, but they support employee ownership, at least give them that little bit of credit. You know, I despise so-and-so, but I like them on employee ownership.
[00:11:48] Keith Davenport: Right.
[00:11:48] Bret Keisling: So, what I would say is folks in Kansas House District 43, I understand that you may traditionally vote Republican, and I get that. But if you take a look at employee ownership and you look at what employee ownership would mean to the communities and let me speak as someone who is a Republican for many, many years, was a business lawyer. This podcast network is my seventh business. I am an entrepreneur. I have created shareholder wealth for much of my career. With employee ownership, you're just doing the exact same thing for more shareholders and that's the conservative side. And I am speaking to the folks in your district who are Republican, there are so many different reasons to support you that stem from the employee ownership, because if someone is fighting for employee ownership in the state houses, it's going to make our communities better. And that's also going to address crime. It's going to address so many different peripheral things that come about because jobs are better sturdier and safer.
[00:12:41] Keith Davenport candidate for Kansas House District 43, we are very pleased to endorse and support your efforts. I personally have made a modest donation to your campaign. I would encourage anybody listening to this to do the same. The reality is your race is very, very important to Kansas House District 43, but in the broader employee ownership context, your race is very, very important to all of us, regardless of the political stripe.
[00:13:07] So, for those of you and my friends who are in employee ownership, who listen to this podcast with regularity, I've never said this about anybody before, but I'd appreciate you're considering making a donation to Keith.
[00:13:19] Keith, they can find you on the internet at keithforkansas.com. You've got a great website. It covers some issues, there are opportunities to donate there and opportunities, I believe, to stay connected with your campaign moving forward.
[00:13:32] Keith, thank you for taking the time to spend a few minutes with us today. I look forward to following your race and we'll be happy to support you in any way that we can.
[00:13:40] Keith Davenport: Thank you so much, Bret.
[00:13:41] Bret Keisling: All right, to our friends in Kansas House District 43 and to everybody in employee ownership, listening to this Mini-cast, thank you so much for listening. This is Bret Keisling. Be well.
[00:13:52] Bitsy McCann: We'd love to hear from you. You can find us on Facebook at EO Podcast Network and on Twitter @ESOPPodcast. This podcast has been produced by Bret Keisling for the EO Podcast Network, production assistance by Victoria Huerta, original music composed by Max Keisling, branding and marketing by BitsyPlus Design, and I'm Bitsy McCann.
Standard Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are my own and don't represent those of my own firms or the organizations to which I belong. Nothing in the podcast should be construed as guidance or advice of any kind in any field and the fact that I mentioned an organizational website or an advocate or a company on a podcast does not reflect an endorsement, but if you've heard your name or your group's name mentioned on this podcast, I'd love to have you come on and talk about it yourself.
A note on the transcript: This transcript was produced by Descript, an automated transcription service. While it has been reviewed by The EsOp Podcast, we can not guarantee the accuracy of the transcription. Please refer to the original audio when citing sources.