by Joe Bollig
TOPEKA — For the past 10 years, Michael Schuttloffel has been “our man in Topeka.”
As executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, Schuttloffel has worked with the bishops of Kansas to advocate for the public policy interests of the church in the corridors of power in the Capitol.
Schuttloffel brought a lot of experience to the job when he signed on in 2008.
Previously, he was adviser for transportation policy to Texas Gov. Rick Perry and served as the governor’s liaison to the Texas Department of Transportation. Before his time in Texas, he served at various times as a congressional staffer to four members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Like Archbishop Emeritus James P. Keleher and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann, Schuttloffel wasn’t born here but became “Kansan at heart,” as much a native son as those who claim pioneer roots.
Schuttloffel’s long tenure of service and success will end, however, as he leaves Kansas to do advocacy work for education on the larger stage of the federal government in Washington, D.C.
He will be succeeded by Kansas Rep. Gerald C. “Chuck” Weber (R-Wichita) who will resign his position representing the 85th District to become the fifth executive director of the Kansas Catholic Conference on July 15.
Before he left, Schuttloffel shared some thoughts and observations with The Leaven.
Q: What would you identify as your greatest accomplishments during your tenure?
A: I’m grateful to have been part of some very special victories these last 10 years. Kansas has passed three religious freedom laws in the last five years; I don’t know if any other state can claim that. The Kansas bishops have been at the forefront of those efforts.
The win this year on the new law protecting faith-based adoption providers occurred in stunning fashion, passing the House with the bare minimum 63 votes, which very few people thought we could get to.
I’ll never forget the feeling I had when it passed — after 12 months of nonstop effort on the bill, I almost couldn’t understand what had just happened.
The passage of Kansas’ first school choice law in 2014 was also thrilling and has given low-income children the opportunity to attend the school of their dreams.
Finally, it was incredibly rewarding to able to participate in the effort to change Kansas from the abortion capital of the Midwest into a state with some of the strongest pro-life laws in the country. The conference played a supporting role in that effort — Kansans for Life was in the lead and did the real hard work — but just being able to help out in some small way will be something I will always treasure.
Q: Are you leaving with any major disappointments? Something that didn’t pass that you wish had?
A: In 2014, a religious freedom bill we were promoting went down to a very ugly defeat. We were trying to protect people like Jack Phillips of Masterpiece Cake Shop, the baker who just won his case at the U.S. Supreme Court this month.
We knew that bakers, florists, photographers and eventually others would be coming under attack for trying to live their faith in their daily lives. We expected the media and interest groups hostile to Christian beliefs about human sexuality to try to frame the bill in an unflattering light, but some legislators in high places who knew better ended up caving in to the political pressure and gave voice to some despicable untruths.
That unexpected development, combined with a relentless smear campaign by local and national media, created an absolute firestorm.
In 20 years of working in politics at the federal and state levels, I have never seen anything like it. It is astounding how people continue to lie about that bill even today. It was fake news before there was such a thing as fake news.
Q: What was it like to work with and for the bishops of Kansas?
A: Being able to work for the church has been the honor of my professional life. I am so very grateful to have been able to serve the Kansas bishops — they are such good men. I’m not sure most Catholics give too much thought to who their bishop is these days; people are more focused on their parish priest and the pope.
But the bishops are incredibly important to the life of the church, and Catholics in Kansas do not know how good they’ve got it, believe me.
Archbishop Naumann is the only one left who was there when I was hired in 2008 — so he is the one to bear the blame — and words cannot express how much I admire the man. He’ll have major time off of purgatory for having put up with me for a decade.
Q: Looking ahead, what are the major areas in which you can see your successor taking the conference?
A: I look forward to my successor improving the conference’s outreach to Catholics in the pews and to our priests, so that more Catholics in Kansas can support the KCC in its important work.
Q: You’re not from here originally. What impressions of Kansas will you take with you?
A: I get all weepy when I try to explain to people what Kansas means to me. I haven’t been able to do it yet like I want to, so maybe I will write something about it someday.
Leaving is very painful. I’m a child of the Midwest and saying goodbye to it again tears me up. I moved around a lot when I was a kid, so I’ve never really been able to give an answer when asked “where is my hometown.”
But from now on, when people ask me where I’m from, my heart will say Kansas. I think of that final shot in our video about faith-based adoption providers as my love letter to the state.
Q: What’s next for Michael Schuttloffel?
A: Staring July 1, I will be the executive director of the Council for American Private Education, an organization headquartered in the D.C. area that advocates for private schools. I will be working a lot on school choice.
But my gaze won’t be able to help but wander, looking west, over the Appalachians, across the Mississippi, to this place, the heart of America.