Kansas was once a very progressive — radical, even — place. Before and during the Civil War, the state was a hotbed for the anti-slavery movement. In the late 19th century, the leftist, pro-labor People’s Party took root in the wheat-filled plains.

Things have changed a bit since then. In the past 100 years, the state has gone for the Democratic presidential candidate only three times. And now, “If you want to know what a Tea Party America might look like, there is no place like Kansas,” writes Annie Gowen in the Washington Post. Kansas even has an “Office of the Repealer” to offer recommendations on laws and regulations to cut.

Despite the change in political mood in the rest of the state, Lawrence held onto its progressive roots. In the 2012 presidential election, not only did Douglas County vote blue in a state that overwhelmingly went red, it matched the state’s zeal for Romney (59.7 percent) with how strongly it went for Obama (60.5 percent).

Eileen Horn.
Eileen Horn.

Eileen Horn, a native of the sunflower state, became the city’s and county’s first sustainability director in 2010. Her position was funded — as was the case with those of many small cities — through the Energy Efficiency and Conservation block fund, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, aka the stimulus bill. (Last summer, representatives voted unanimously to fund Horn’s office on a more permanent basis, through the general fund.)

I talked to Horn for Knope and change, our series on the women working to green our cities and towns. Here’s our edited conversation on the power of a little good-natured competition, the food movement in the bread basket, and why the country can’t move forward without a constructive conversation with the Midwest.