By EARL WATT
• Daily Leader
Melvin Neufeld served in Topeka for 24 years as the Representative of the 115th District. That’s two years longer than the person that defeated him has been alive.
The tremors of a national movement to send new faces to Washington were felt all the way in Southwest Kansas during the last primary election cycle when former Speaker of the House Neufeld lost to Garrett Love, a 22-year-old self-starter.
But Love didn’t narrowly knock off Neufeld. Love won with 67 percent of the vote to Neufeld’s 33.
Love came to Liberal Thursday to Ruffino’s Italian Restaurant to share his story with We the People, a local political awareness group.
Love told the crowd of 30 that he had been tracking the effect of We the People in Seward County.
“You are having an impact,” he said. Love mentioned that David Powell, a candidate for insurance commissioner who ran against Sandy Praeger, lost handily statewide, but was even in Seward County despite Powell not having the funds to compete against Praeger.
“I hope this is a template for other groups across the country,” Love said. “We need to turn our country around, and the more people think the role of government is to take care of them, the harder it will be to fix.”
Love’s recipe for involvement was relatively simple — when he saw something that needed changed, he changed it.
The Montezuma native said he grew up in a Christian home and went to college at Washburn in Topeka to play basketball.
“I gained humility playing basketball there,” Love said. “What I really did was get a really great seat at a lot of good games.”
But Love was doing more than playing basketball. He was studying management and economics, and he was seeing the inefficiencies of government at work, starting with the on-campus bookstore.
“It didn’t work very well,” he said. “So I started a bookstore and was able to compete.”
It didn’t take long for Love to form partnerships and branch out to other campuses. He then ran for student body president and won.
“I noticed how easy some groups want to spend other people’s money,” he said.
As student body president, he turned that around and created a surplus of funds for the students by bringing in private firms to provide services more efficiently at lower costs.
While most other regent universities were raising tuition by as much as 9 percent to address falling revenues, Washburn University's president invited Love to make recommendations for cost savings. That led to a $2 million reduction in costs and only a 2 percent tuition increase.
Love’s attention then turned to the Statehouse in Topeka where he interned, and again, Love didn’t like what he saw.
“It was more about politics rather than what was right for the people,” he said. “Governor Parkinson said that we were a progressive state, and that made me mad. So I started to ask, ‘What have we done? What is our fruit?’ We had one of the top 10 tax increases in the nation, no pro-life protection in a decade, and spending increases of 43 percent in four years. That’s not sustainable. We had revenues coming in, but we were not responsible with it in the good times.”
Not only was Love unhappy with Topeka politics, he wasn’t excited about Washington, either.
“I saw the country headed toward socialism,” he said. “The problem is you run out of other people’s money. Eventually there’s no more wealth to redistribute.”
Love thought that he would start a business, make some money and support candidates who would do something different in Topeka. But as he talked to people, he realized that many people have that intention, but job and family takes precedence over serving in public office.
“It creates a void of good leadership,” Love said. “I was concerned in my own district. So I ran.”
Some told Love that running against Neufeld would ruin his political chances for life.
But he wasn’t looking to impress the political leadership. He went to work by talking to the people in the 115th district. He knocked on doors, talked to groups and organizations, and used social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to get his message to the people.
On election night, Love easily unseated Neufeld with a grassroots approach and a strong message of conservatism.
Love still has to defeat a write-in candidate Nov. 2, but it appears highly likely that Love will be in Topeka in 2011, and he will be seeking to change the tone in Topeka to be more in tune with the values of the people. And he isn’t expecting a quick transformation.
“It won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight,” he said. “Right now, I’m helping other challengers who are facing entrenched politicians. I need to gain the trust of my peers.”
The Republican leadership has visited with Love about his success and how to duplicate his efforts elsewhere.
“Twenty-six percent of Americans don’t know who we declared independence from,” Love said. “We are forgetting our Godly heritage of individual liberty and freedom. If we forget where we came from, we will forget who we are.”