As na­tion gained fe­male leg­is­la­tors, Kansas lost 5

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY JONATHAN SHORMAN

The num­ber of women in the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture fell in this year’s elec­tion, even though women will now hold more leg­isla­tive seats na­tion­wide.

Kansas was above the na­tional av­er­age in terms of the per­cent­age of leg­isla­tive seats held by women. Come Jan­uary, the state will fall be­low the na­tional av­er­age.

“We ac­tu­ally in the House, on the state level, went back­wards as far as fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Rep. Cindy Holscher, an Olathe Demo­crat, said at a panel dis­cus­sion on women in pol­i­tics hosted by KCUR.

In 2018, Kansas had 48 fe­male law­mak­ers, and women held 28.5 per­cent of all seats, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures. But once new law­mak­ers take of­fice in Jan­uary, that num­ber will drop to 43. Women will hold 26 per­cent of seats.

The losses come even as Kansas elected its third fe­male gover­nor – Laura Kelly – and Sen. Vicki Sch­midt takes over as in­surance com­mis­sioner af­ter years with­out a woman hold­ing a statewide ex­ec­u­tive of­fice.

Los­ing four fe­male law­mak­ers is the dif­fer­ence be­tween Kansas run­ning ahead or be­hind of the na­tional av­er­age when it comes to fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Leg­is­la­ture. Na­tion­ally, states on av­er­age gained fe­male law­mak­ers in Novem­ber’s elec­tion, but Kansas didn’t.

In 2018, women held 25.4 per­cent of leg­isla­tive seats na­tion­wide; in 2019 the per­cent­age will rise to 28.3 per­cent.

Kansas has had more women in the Leg­is­la­ture at var­i­ous

points in its past.

In 1999, women held

33.3 per­cent of leg­isla­tive seats in Kansas, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Women and Pol­i­tics, or CAWP, at Rut­gers Univer­sity. That ap­pears to be the high wa­ter­mark for the state.

Kansas used to be among the states with the most women serv­ing in the Leg­is­la­ture, but in re­cent years its rank­ing has fallen.

In 1999 and 2000, Kansas ranked 5th among all states in terms of the per­cent­age of leg­isla­tive seats held by women. Be­tween 1989 and 2006, the state’s rank never fell be­low 13th.

Since then, Kansas has ranked in the teens or twen­ties and was as low as 29th in 2016. In 2018, it ranked 18th among states, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter.

Holscher said Kansas had “slid back.”

“We have to keep go­ing and we have to keep work­ing on this,” she said.

When women run for of­fice, they win at the same rate as men in com­pa­ra­ble races, said Jean Sinz­dak, as­so­ci­ate di­rec­tor at

CAWP. The prob­lem is that they don’t run as of­ten.

“Even now, which was a record break­ing year for women can­di­dates, par­tic­u­larly Demo­cratic women, they still were only – it de­pends on what level you’re talk­ing about – a quar­ter of all can­di­dates. So men are still run­ning at higher rates,” Sinz­dak said.

Rep. Stephanie Clay­ton, of Over­land Park, told the women-in-pol­i­tics panel that part of the rea­son more women don’t get into pol­i­tics stems from bench-build­ing is­sues, such as women not lead­ing com­mit­tees or be­ing placed into lead­er­ship roles. Clay­ton was a Repub­li­can at the time of her re­marks but re­cently be­came a Demo­crat.

“If you’re not build­ing up your bench and lift­ing up your women, then you’re not go­ing to have women lead­ing in higher pol­i­tics,” Clay­ton said.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Susan Wa­gle, a Wi­chita Repub­li­can, is the first woman to serve as the Kansas Se­nate pres­i­dent. When she en­tered the Leg­is­la­ture in 1991, there were 44 fe­male law­mak­ers, ac­cord­ing to CAWP.

There will be fewer in 2019, if cur­rent fig­ures hold.

“When I be­gan my po­lit­i­cal ca­reer there were few women in the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture, so I fully un­der­stand the im­por­tance of fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion,” Wa­gle said in a state­ment. “Women bring valu­able ex­pe­ri­ence to the ta­ble and my hope is to see a rise in women run­ning for of­fice next cy­cle, es­pe­cially for con­ser­va­tive women who are of­ten ig­nored and for­got­ten.”

Wendy Doyle, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Women’s Foun­da­tion, said the or­ga­ni­za­tion saw more women be­come po­lit­i­cally in­volved in help­ing cam­paigns dur­ing the last elec­tion cy­cle. The re­sults of the 2016 elec­tion served as a “spring­board,” she said.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s elec­tion in 2016 – com­ing af­ter rev­e­la­tions that he bragged on tape about grab­bing women’s gen­i­tals in ex­tremely crude terms – spurred the na­tion­wide Women’s March and other demon­stra­tions.

“The next day, women said ‘wow, we need to step up and there’s more that we can do,’” Doyle said.

But women con­tinue to not feel con­fi­dent enough to run for of­fice, Doyle said.

Run­ning a cam­paign is ex­pen­sive and can tax a can­di­date’s fam­ily, Doyle said. And cam­paigns can some­times be­come per­sonal, and women have ex­pressed con­cerns about pro­tect­ing their fam­ily from ex­po­sure, she said.

“Just what hap­pens with the neg­a­tive cam­paign­ing – if we could change that and have a lit­tle bit more civil dis­course, it would be in­ter­est­ing to see,” Doyle asked, “Would that help get­ting more women want­ing to run for of­fice?”

Doyle said the Women’s Foun­da­tion wants to of­fer train­ing to more women that in­cludes con­fi­dence­build­ing in an ef­fort to en­cour­age civic en­gage­ment and can­di­da­cies among women, as well as push­ing for more women to be ap­pointed to boards and com­mis­sions.

Jonathan Shorman: 785-296-3895, @jon­shorman

BO RADER The Wi­chita Ea­gle

In 2018, Kansas had 48 fe­male law­mak­ers, tak­ing up 28.5 per­cent of all seats in the Kansas Leg­is­la­ture. That num­ber will drop to 43 in Jan­uary.

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