The November elections could end a remarkable 48-year bipartisan streak of having at least one woman among the statewide elective officeholders in Kansas. If that happens, it would be a regrettable change, given that government should look like the population it serves.
That scenario would follow another Kansas GOP sweep of all the top statewide jobs in Topeka and the retirement of Sandy Praeger, the Republican who has been Kansas insurance commissioner since 2003. The winner of August’s five-way GOP primary to succeed her was Ken Selzer, and all the Republicans seeking to be re-elected as governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state treasurer happen to be men.
If all three women among the Democratic challengers – lieutenant governor candidate Jill Docking, secretary of state candidate Jean Schodorf and treasurer candidate Carmen Alldritt – lose on Nov. 4, only men will be taking the oaths for the statewide offices come January.
Kansas last saw an all-male slate of statewide officeholders in April 1966. Then Elwill Shanahan was appointed to succeed her late husband, Paul Shanahan, as secretary of state; she served until 1978.
The other women to serve statewide since then were Treasurers Joan Finney (1975-91), Sally Thompson (1991-98) and Lynn Jenkins (2003-09); Attorney General Carla Stovall (1995-2003); Insurance Commissioners Kathleen Sebelius (1995-2003) and Praeger (2003-present); Govs. Finney (1991-95) and Sebelius (2003-09); and Lt. Gov. Sheila Frahm (1995-96).
It’s important to note that one of the most powerful people in the state is Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, the first woman to lead either chamber of the Kansas Legislature. Jenkins has represented the 2nd Congressional District since 2009. And women’s 25 percent share of seats in the Legislature, unimpressive as that sounds, is about the average nationally.
But a men-only lineup of statewide officeholders would seem a step back for a state whose proud history of electing women to office goes all the way back to the nation’s first female mayor, Susanna Madora Salter, mayor of Argonia in 1887. Kansas first elected a woman to statewide office in 1918, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Lizzie Wooster. In 1978, Kansans made Nancy Kassebaum the first woman elected to a full term in the U.S. Senate whose husband hadn’t previously served in Congress. In 1996, Kansas became the first state to be represented by an equal number of men and women in Congress (when Kassebaum was joined briefly in the Senate by Frahm, as Rep. Jan Meyers served the 3rd Congressional District). And though 24 states still have yet to have a woman governor, Kansas has elected two.
Voters should let qualifications and positions on the issues be their guide. But it’s worth noting that Kansas women’s half-century claim on one or more statewide elective seats is at risk.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman