Sunday, December 21, 2014

PETERSON: Could women decide 2014 elections?

By DR. MARK PETERSON, Insight Kansas | 6/13/2014

It looks like 2014 could become the year of the woman voter in Kansas. First, some data provided to “frame” the issue:

• There are 1,084,000 women age 18 or older in Kansas according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.

It looks like 2014 could become the year of the woman voter in Kansas. First, some data provided to “frame” the issue:

• There are 1,084,000 women age 18 or older in Kansas according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.

• Of female Kansans 25 or older, 650,000 have associate’s degrees or less education.

• Of those 650,000 women, 350,000 have high school diplomas or less education.

• There are 115,000 Kansan female heads of household — 75,000 have dependents in the home age 18 or younger. Those who are mothers are not eligible for the same health care their children might receive unless, heaven forbid, their personal income is well below $8,000 annually.

• There are, according to that 2012 estimate, 279,000 single (never married) Kansas women — most of them younger than 30; many of them low-skilled, and under- or unemployed.

• Most Kansas K-12 school teachers are women. Their employment status now is more capricious than before the past legislative session.

Most nursing and non-professional personnel in health care are women. The further away from an actual nursing degree or technical certification, the lower the pay and the poorer the benefits.

• Most low-wage jobs in retail and food service are “manned” by women.

• In the presidential voting year 2012, 67 percent of registered Kansans voted. The 1,183,000 voters who turned out were split by gender 50-50. Presidential years in Kansas consistently produce 20 percentage points more turnout than “off-year” elections. This is perverse. In the off-year, we elect our governor, other statewide officeholders, members of Congress, and the state’s larger legislative house — posts with tremendous impact upon the typical Kansan. Nevertheless, that’s the election record. In the 2012 election, about 500,000 Kansas women did not vote. In 2014, if the off-year trend holds, 650,000 women will not be voting.

• Of those 650,000 less-than-likely-to-vote women, many will be those economically fragile female heads of household and young single women. These are people whose fates are often deeply affected by public policy — think school nutrition programs, public daycare programs, arts in the schools and community, Pell grants, student loans, job training, Medicaid, WIC and SNAP food assistance, various protective services, child support payment enforcement, and anti-discrimination enforcement against employers and supervisors. The list could certainly be extended. Many of these policy issues for these women, and even those with more education and better employment, were not addressed in ways that benefited them in the past 2 or 4 years.

• Most of these women reside in the state’s urbanized areas. If mobilized, women could impact the outcomes of elections at the state and federal levels — certainly in the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, if not the 1st and 4th. An effort by the campaigns of Kelly Kultala in the 3rd, Margie Wakefield in the 2nd, the Paul Davis-Jill Docking gubernatorial ticket, and Jean Schodorf for Secretary of State, along with the Reroute the Roadmap leadership, and Kansas National Education Association mobilizing and reaching out to this under-represented, voiceless, and economically stressed population seems warranted. The Libertarian gubernatorial candidate, Keen Umbehr, has made a distinction worth using. He’s pointed out that 17 percent of Kansas taxpayers have enjoyed great income tax relief from Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature — 83 percent have not. The numbers say few of the women noted here are in the 17 percent.

After the treatment these women have had in the past 42 months, they might be “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It turns out someone is paying attention. A coalition of groups have formed, and they are orchestrating the “Taking Back Kansas” conference Aug. 29-30 in Wichita. Could 2014 be “The Year of the Woman Voter in Kansas?”

Dr. Mark Peterson teaches political science and public administration at the college level in Topeka and is a member of the Insight Kansas writing group. Email him at

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