Vicki Schmidt is a former member of the Kansas Senate, representing the 20th District, from 2005 to 2019. She was recently elected Kansas Insurance Commissioner in 2018. She spoke to the Women’s Foundation about her background as a public servant, the challenges she has faced, and why she hopes even more women get involved in their communities.
What made you decide to get involved in public service?
This is the question where I’m supposed to tell you that service to others is how I was raised and those values were instilled in me at a very young age. All of that is true and it is why I decided to become a pharmacist. However, if I’m being completely honest, which isn’t a new thing for those that know me, I first ran for office because I was upset.
I was on the Board of Pharmacy attending a legislative committee hearing, and one of the committee members fell asleep during my testimony. I left that meeting unhappy that an elected official would care so little about their work that I thought I could do a better job, so I decided to run for office.
What’s the biggest challenge or setback you’ve faced?
My biggest challenge has always been getting elected. Every time I have run for office, it has been a highly contested race.
It is not easy to run for office. If I am going to work that hard to get elected, I am going to get something done when elected. As a Senator, I was known for asking questions and getting answers. There is a lot of red tape in the government so it was always the most rewarding to help someone get through that to get an answer. I didn’t always like the answer I got, but I believe everyone deserves an answer.
What is your advice to others, especially women, who want to get involved in public service?
Public service is more than serving in an elected office. There are a number of boards and commissions at both a state and local level that are in desperate need of people who are passionate and willing to put in the time to do a great job. Being involved in the community you live in is the best way to start making a difference.
If you decide that running for office office is something you want to do, don’t wait for permission. Yes, it is good to have relationships with people in your political party so you have a base of potential volunteers and supporters. Yes, it is always good to get advice and counsel from other community leaders before deciding to run. However, if you’re passionate about running, don’t let any of that stop you. Make your case to voters why you should have the privilege of serving and they may just decide they agree.
Is there anything that has surprised you about public service?
Yes, I was surprised by how much I have enjoyed it. I never thought I would engage in politics, serve in the Kansas Senate for 14 years or run for statewide office. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed the work and the feelings of helping others.
What’s your favorite thing about serving in your role?
I served in the Kansas Senate for 14 years, and there are days I wish I could put my policy hat back on and weigh in on a number of issues. However, I am thoroughly enjoying my time as Insurance Commissioner because as I now get to serve and help my entire state.
Most people have insurance and pray they never need it, but when they do, I want it to work for them. There is a lot of important work that goes into protecting Kansans, whether it is a market conduct study, reviewing a company’s financials for determining their ability to pay claims, or looking into potential insurance fraud. All of these tasks are important to oversee and protect Kansas consumers.
How has your background shaped the way you serve your constituents?
I was the first person on my dad’s side of the family to graduate from college. I’ve spent my entire professional career as a pharmacist working with people who need it. My upbringing and my professional career gave me an appreciation and compassion for the challenges Kansans face every day and a desire to make a positive difference where I can.
Have you ever had a mentor, or someone who inspired you?
My parents made a world of difference in my life. Mentorship is important, but nothing can make up for the value of loving parental support. I have also been fortunate to have a number of excellent teachers and professors along the way that have impacted my life.
If I had to name someone that has inspired me, I would say it is Marily Rhudy, who was the first woman to become president of the Kansas Pharmacist Association. Marily was a pioneer for women in the profession and truly an inspiration in my life.