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Government

No Women In Kansas Statewide Elected Office

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Joseph Novak, flickr Creative Commons
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For the first time since 1966, there are no women holding elected statewide office in Kansas. KMUW’s Abigail Wilson has more…

Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger left office Monday, January 12. And since that day, when new oaths were sworn, all eight of Kansas' statewide elected officials are men. The offices include governor, lieutenant governor, U.S. senators, treasurer, attorney general, secretary of state and insurance commissioner.

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Former Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger

Sandy Praeger, who chose not to run again for insurance commissioner, says that, generally speaking, women get involved in politics because they feel they can make a difference.

"They want to find common ground, build consensus, and solve problems.  The current political environment just kind of defies those things. There's no desire to find common ground, certainly across party lines," Praeger says. "I just think the political environment is tough right now.”

Praeger says that the increasing amount of mud-slinging and the negative advertising that come along with today’s elections are also contributing factors.

“Women are not going to get into a political environment where you have to be so ugly. I never did that. I hated that about campaigning and I refused to do it.”

Less than 20 years ago, five women were serving in statewide elected office in Kansas: Nancy Kassebaum, Sheila Frahm, Carla Stovall, Sally Thompson, and Kathleen Sebelius. Three were Republicans and two were Democrats.

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Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle

Susan Wagle, a Republican from Wichita, is the state Senate’s first female president.

"I think Kansas is proud in that we were the first state to elect a female U.S. Senator when we elected Nancy Kassebaum. I don't think Kansas is anti-woman at all, I just think that voters are very concerned right now about pocketbook issues and the people they elected were articulate and shared the values of most Kansans," she explains.

Dr. Robin Henry is an associate professor in the history department at Wichita State University. Her research examines the intersections between sexuality, law, and regional identity in the United States. She says that the lack of women in statewide office is certainly a point of discussion, but that it shouldn’t be overemphasized as a problem or a crisis.

"I think that to become worried after one time is a little overkill but it is something to look at and to figure out, just to make sure that there's not a second, third, fourth, and repeated historical times." 

Dr. Henry says she doesn’t see the results of the recent election as a reversal of progress for women.

“If you look at the national scene, you now have the highest number of women elected to Congress in history  - so that's a positive. But just because we talk about how far we've come, doesn't mean that we can't go backwards. You have to be constantly aware and vigilant to figure out the best practices and the best ways to get the representative population in any particular state involved in politics.”

The most troubling aspect according to Dr. Henry is the lack of female role models for young girls in Kansas who could have a potential future in politics.

"If they just see a picture of politicians in one particular moment. Unless they're really gung-ho 12-year-olds and die-hard political enthusiasts, that might be their one and only time of looking. And seeing a panel full of men, seeing a panel full of people that don't look like them, can be disconcerting."

But Kansas is not alone. Five other states — Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia — also have no women in statewide office.