Alana Cloutier remembers her first voting experience. She accompanied her father to a voting booth in 1984, when she was just a child. He jokingly told the poll workers she was there to vote for Nancy Reagan, and she got mad because she knew it was Ronald, not his wife, on the ballot.
Fast forward about three decades, to when a woman actually was on the ballot for president.
Cloutier’s mother, a native of Ireland who had lived in this country since the 1960s, became a U.S. citizen so she could vote for Hillary Clinton.
Fast forward again, a few years later, and Cloutier is on the ballot herself, running for the 9th District in the Kansas House of Representatives.
It’s an unexpected position to find herself in, Cloutier said, and something she might not have considered until she moved to Kansas in 2017.
Cloutier (pronounced clue-tee-aye) grew up in northern California. Her parents were caretakers of a 2,000 acre sheep ranch outside Bodega Bay, a very rural area.
In high school, she met Paul Cloutier, a native of the Wichita area. They’ve been married for 14 years.
They visited Humboldt in late 2016 and took a tour of the city with the Works family. Inspired by efforts to improve the community, the couple moved to Humboldt and became part of A Bolder Humboldt. They’ve since worked on numerous development projects.
Not long after arriving in Humboldt, Cloutier met Mike Bruner, chairman of the Allen County Democratic Party. He was looking for candidates for the 2018 election.
Cloutier had no interest in running but soon became vice chairman of the local party.
This spring, she applied to serve as a Democratic delegate from Kansas for the national convention. She was chosen for an at-large position. The coronavirus meant it would be a virtual convention, rather than a live event in Milwaukee as planned. Still, it was a great experience, she said.
“We got a lot of business done on the party platform,” she said. “We talked a lot about rural issues, such as farming and housing.”
Cloutier thought about running for the 9th District in 2022. But on the night before the filing deadline for the 2020 election, Bruner convinced her to run.
Up to that point, no Democrat had filed for the seat. Cloutier doesn’t like to see races decided in the primary, with only Republicans picking the candidate.
Kansas may have more Republican voters, but that process leaves out many others who would vote in the general election. Kansas has 812,319 registered Republicans compared to 480,640 Democrats and 540,000 unaffiliated voters, according to July 1 figures from the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.
“It’s important to have a Democrat in the race,” Cloutier said. “I feel like this is a very important year to run.”
She describes her platform as similar to the goals of A Bolder Humboldt: Support small businesses.
“Encouraging small, local businesses is huge. How do we get more people to move here and move back here? The state can make that easier to happen,” she said.
Several other issues factor into that goal, including agriculture, jobs, health care, infrastructure, housing and education.
One of the best things the government can do to improve the rural economy is support schools, she said.
“I grew up in California where the schools were really underfunded. I know what it’s like to be in a school with large classes and too many kids to teach,” she said. “Having well-funded schools is huge. It’s saying we see a future for our town. And young families add to the tax base.”
Because of her rural roots, Cloutier is passionate about issues surrounding agriculture and rural communities. She’s also lived in larger cities, including San Francisco, so she understands the various challenges facing those from all walks of life.
She is a supporter of Medicaid expansion, which would provide healthcare to more Kansans who are struggling and provide millions of dollars to rural hospitals.
“In our area, we missed out on potentially millions of dollars and a number of good paying jobs by not having expanded Medicaid,” she said.
She plans to address the state’s budget shortfall by taking a look at large corporations that take advantage of tax loopholes and don’t pay their fair share in taxes.
Cloutier is challenging incumbent Rep. Kent Thompson. Read his story here.