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Sustaining Ties

Working with both sides of the aisle focus for Lawrence

Will Lawrence

From - The Ichabod - Winter 2021

Before he started working as chief of staff for Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly in 2018, Will Lawrence, ba ’10, jd ’13, didn’t think much about emergency management. Tornadoes and floods are common in the Midwest, but the COVID-19 pandemic has presented state government with the unforeseen challenges of balancing the needs of the economic and business sectors with threats to public health and safety.

“I’ve learned that you can’t anticipate what may happen,” Lawrence said in October as the state prepared for the pandemic’s winter toll. “People are frustrated – they want normalcy. They want college sports, they want high school sports, they want their kids to go back to school. Trying to manage all of that and keep businesses open while also trying to protect and safeguard the public health when you’ve had over 200,000 Americans die is a tough balance.”

The stress and unpredictability of the last year have provided Lawrence valuable experience in what has already been a successful political career. Over the last decade, he has held a variety of roles in state government, including chief of staff for Kansas Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, ba ’75. He has also worked as an attorney in a private practice. His interest in politics started with his father, who served as a Republican member of the Kansas House of Representatives.

“Coming from a Republican family, it’s funny that I’m now the Democratic governor’s chief of staff,” Lawrence laughed. “I learned early on that working in this building is a lot about relationships and always staying focused on the issue and not the person. I have good relationships with a lot of Republicans. We may disagree on a lot of issues, but there are many times we can work together.”

The ability to talk things through and consider all sides of an issue has certainly helped Lawrence approach divisive topics with tact and compassion, such as the growing need to pursue renewable energy in Kansas and across the country. At Washburn this spring, WUmester will focus on sustainability, offering classes, speakers and panels during a semester-long look at this important topic that requires involvement from all perspectives.

“I think many people support the idea of renewable energy, but when you work in a job that might go away, it’s a scary place to be,” Lawrence said. “You always have to keep that in mind when you’re looking at energy policy and how we’re going to provide training to ensure those employees have the skill sets necessary to move into those new jobs.”

Lawrence also credits his time at Washburn University with helping him learn to hear and appreciate diverse perspectives. As an undergraduate and in law school, he served in various student leadership roles, giving him the opportunity to work with people whose views were different from his.

“I learned to work together and find solutions, and that set me up for success in this job as well as the legal profession,” Lawrence said.

The Ichabod Magazine Winter 2022 cover - Memorial Union with snow, pine needles in the foreground

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