Dalton Glasscock, the youthful chairman of the Sedgwick County GOP, adheres to his conservative principles while working hard to ensure his party wins in 2020. But he’s doing it with a style and tone that stands in contrast to the bitter sniping that permeates so much of contemporary political debate.
The role of a political party chairperson is to get candidates elected to advance the policy platform. With that simple mandate — win — it follows that elections are often quite contentious. If there is any civility in politics, it’s not typically the party apparatus that is known for decorum.
The new chairman of the Sedgwick County GOP still wants to win — believing deeply in Republican tenets — but he’s also emphasizing civility in a way that’s a little unexpected and refreshing, particularly for his role.
Dalton Glasscock has deleted his Twitter and Instagram accounts, tired of unproductive social media arguments that too often devolve into name calling. He also has nearly a decade of campaign experience in the Wichita area, gaining a reputation for tireless work. “Ninety percent of politics — 90% of life — is showing up,” he says.
But he also represents a new face for Sedgwick County Republicans, a dominant force for decades but not necessarily known for diversity or youth. In November, Glasscock’s election as chairman by precinct committeemen and women made headlines: “New Sedgwick County Republican chairman is 24, Christian and gay,” The Wichita Eagle announced. (Dalton Glasscock turns age 25 on Aug. 10.)
Glasscock is the kind of guy who, when president of his fraternity at Wichita State University, took every member out to coffee one on one. Glasscock can’t do that with the 118,000 registered Republicans in Sedgwick County, but he sure is trying.
“I want to go anywhere we’re invited,” Glasscock says, noting that county Republicans are just so used to winning that they have become a little complacent.
He is also making a concerted effort to reach out more widely in the community. That includes across the aisle. One of Glasscock’s points of pride thus far is organizing a bipartisan Arkansas River cleanup and barbecue in April. About 100 people attended, including members of the Sedgwick County Democrats and the Wichita chapter of Unite America, a coalition of independents.
Tonya Buckingham, Sedgwick County’s elected register of deeds, serves as vice chairwoman of the Sedgwick County Republicans and had previously been chairwoman. Until the cleanup, she had never met the chair of the Sedgwick County Democrats.
“A lot of people are afraid of people that are not like them,” she says. “That’s not the way Dalton is. He reaches out to people that are different, and he brings people together.”
Of course, as Glasscock notes, it’s a lot easier to do outreach events in 2019, which is not a partisan election year, than it will be in 2020.
But Glasscock has garnered praise and respect, even among opposing campaigns.
Chris Pumpelly is a Wichita-based progressive communications strategist who had gone head to head with Glasscock on several campaigns.
“He’s driven me absolutely nuts for years. He’s grown on me,” Pumpelly says with clear affection. “I consider him a friend.”
Pumpelly views Glasscock as someone who is true to his lived experiences and is willing to do what he believes is right even if it isn’t always popular.
“I think Dalton is trying to say, ‘We’re going to argue. We’re going to fight politically, and we’re going to use the weapons available to us.’ But maybe the argument is one of the stronger weapons that you can use is civility.”
Pumpelly noted the scrutiny Glasscock faced upon his election – emails and texts identifying him as gay – and Glasscock’s decision to acknowledge his sexual orientation publicly.
“I’m gay myself. … I know for a fact that he gets notes from people that say, ‘You’re going to hell,’ and ‘I’m sorry, I can’t be seen with you anymore,’” Pumpelly says. “You better believe it was a courageous thing. … I’m grateful that we’re lucky enough to have somebody on the other side who I know has, at the bare minimum, the courage of his convictions.”
Dalton Glasscock says the philosophies of the Kansas Leadership Center have had a significant influence on him. He was first exposed to the competencies in a Wichita State University class called Leadership in Self and Society, taught by Peter Cohen, a senior associate for KLC’s teaching team. After the first day, Glasscock was emotionally drained.
“It flips your view of leadership on your head,” he says. Later, he had an opportunity to facilitate a class for other students. “I’ve never seen any class change someone as much.”
The concepts also inspired Glasscock to experiment with his leadership style as fraternity president – trying to speak to the hearts of individual members one on one and challenging them to be vulnerable. Before long, the chapter had grown from 50 members to 100 and “people felt they could be themselves.”
Glasscock says managing self is the most difficult competency for him as he identifies his triggers. As a result, “I articulate things differently. I’m just as conservative as I’ve always been.”
Diversity of Opinion
Dalton Glasscock also talks a lot about embracing a diversity of opinions, including working across factions within the party.
“We all disagree with something in the party platform. My job is to get them elected,” he says. “A Riverside (neighborhood) Republican is much different than a rural Sedgwick County Republican … I think we can win when we talk about what we’re for rather than what we’re against.”
Glasscock ticks off the Republican philosophies that are most important to him: limited government, fiscal responsibility and individual rights. “That resonates with almost any American,” he says.
He’s also encouraged by the response he is getting from more community involvement.
“I’ve also seen a lot of new faces in the party,” he says. “I’ve seen more young people; I’ve seen more minorities.”
Glasscock talks a lot of about civility and thoughtful debate – and models them well. His day job is CEO of Starnes Media, the speaking and publishing arm for Todd Starnes, a Fox News commentator and radio host. He is also completing a master’s degree through George Washington University.
When asked how he deals with the more bombastic and strident voices in politics, Glassock says, “I’m trying to bring out our better angels.”
He appreciates the ability to reason and debate with logic, and he wants people on both the left and the right to do so.
“I think it’s good to wrestle with things,” he says. “Change doesn’t happen unless there’s some level of uncomfortability.”
Sedgwick County Commissioner Michael O’Donnell counts himself among Dalton Glasscock’s fans.
“He has a healthy balance of having a strong ego and also being empathetic,” O’Donnell says. “He’s going to be respectful. Dalton’s very partisan, but he’s very fair. There’s a world where you can be partisan and effective and kind at the same time.”
A version of this article appears in the Summer 2019 issue of The Journal, a publication of the Kansas Leadership Center. To learn more about KLC, visit http://kansasleadershipcenter.org. Order your copy of the magazine at the KLC Store. For a subscription to the printed edition of The Journal, visit https://kansasleadershipcenter.org/store/one-year-subscription-to-the-journal-4-upcoming-issues/.