Saturday, November 01, 2014

Democrat women face uphill political battle at Kansas Statehouse

By KAITLYN KLEIN, KU Statehouse Wire Reporter | 5/19/2014

TOPEKA — While representing constituents in the Kansas Statehouse, female Democrats face the unique challenge of fighting for two minorities.

Women from both parties make up about 24 percent of the Statehouse, while Kansas Democrats represent about 25 percent of the Kansas Legislature.

TOPEKA — While representing constituents in the Kansas Statehouse, female Democrats face the unique challenge of fighting for two minorities.

Women from both parties make up about 24 percent of the Statehouse, while Kansas Democrats represent about 25 percent of the Kansas Legislature.

Six female Democrats hold committee leadership positions: four in the House and two in the Senate.

University of Kansas professor Burdett Loomis said that women’s representation in most states has plateaued in recent years, remaining stagnant in the 20 percent range. Kansas has followed that trend too.

But, he said, Kansas’ far-right political climate makes it especially difficult to be a Democrat in Kansas.

“Republicans by and large don’t need them (Democrats),” Loomis said. “Honestly they can’t do much more than keep score, hold the governor to his word and tell people when he doesn’t keep his word.”

State Sens. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, and Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, and Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, share the challenge of representing their constituents against the Republican super majority that controls both chambers of the legislature.

Each woman has her own perspective on how gender affects politics, as well as her own policy priorities.

Kelly, the Senate Minority Whip, is serving her third term, and doesn’t think of policy in terms of gender.

“I don’t see being a woman as being that important of a part of my job,” Kelly said. “Trust that I’m a feminist at heart and I’m always on the look out for issues and policies that I think will be detrimental to women.”

Her friend and former colleague, Janis Lee, agreed. Lee served in the Kansas Senate from 1989 until 2011. She worked with Kelly for seven and a half years before stepping down to accept an appointment to the Kansas Court of Tax Appeal.

“I found as a candidate being a Democrat was much more of an obstacle than being a woman,” Lee said.

Kelly’s agenda focuses on fiscal policy, but said early childhood development, especially in terms of education, is important to her as well.

“I think that’s probably the best investment we can make,” Kelly said. “To ensure that little kids are really ready emotionally, intellectually and physically to begin kindergarten.”

In contrast, Faust-Goudeau, who is serving her second term in the Senate after three terms in the House, recognized that her gender affects how she’s treated. She believes there is still a “good ol’ boys” system in politics.

In 2008, Faust-Goudeau was elected as the first African American woman to serve in the Kansas Senate.

She said sometimes she’s seen as having “three strikes” as a black female Democrat, but said it depends whether any of those “strikes” benefit or hinder her agenda.

Faust-Goudeau has often been the only woman serving on a committee, and said she’s adamant to get women’s voice heard.

“We all have different issues that are important to us,” she said. “I think we have such an insight from just the perspective of being a woman and I think if we could all work together more we could channel those energies to make good policy.”

Faust-Goudeau said she’s an advocate for jobs with living wages, healthcare, education and disability rights.

Menghini and Faust-Goudeau both said the role of women as wives and caregivers as are important perspectives women bring to politics.

“Moms really fight for their kids, and for some of these family issues I think women will go to the mat on some of those more,” Menghini said.

Menghini’s policy focuses include tax and fiscal policy, transportation and education.

All three women expressed interest in political parity.

“We make up at least half the population and we aren’t represented proportionally,” Menghini said. “And that’s a problem.”

Kelly agreed and added that there should be a balance of representation in not just gender, but also in occupation and ideology.

“We want a mix of folks so that all different views can be put out there so we can work together,” Kelly said.

Kaitlyn Klein is a University of Kansas junior from Bellevue, Nebraska, studying journalism and public policy.

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