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SPOTLIGHT
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Power of the woman

Published on -6/15/2014, 9:56 AM

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This year could become the year of the female voter in Kansas. First, some data provided to "frame" the issue:

There are 1.1 million women age 18 or older in Kansas, according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.

Of female Kansans age 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 can receive unless, heaven forbid, their personal income is well below $8,000 annually.

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

Most Kansas K-12 school teachers are female. Their employment status now is more capricious than before this last 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 1.2 million 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 shall 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, approximately 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 often are deeply affected by public policy -- think school nutrition programs, public day care 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 certainly could 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 benefitted them in the past two or four years.

Most of these women reside in the state's urbanized areas. If mobilized, women could affect the outcomes of elections at the state and federal levels -- certainly in the second and third congressional districts, if not the first and fourth. An effort by the campaigns of Kelly Kultala in the third, Margie Wakefield in the second, Davis-Docking, and Schodorf for Secretary of State, along with the Reroute the Roadmap leadership, and KNEA 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 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 WomenforKansas.org, and they are orchestrating the "Taking Back Kansas" conference in Wichita on Aug. 29 and 30. Could it be 2014 will be "The Year of the Woman Voter in Kansas?"

Mark Peterson teaches political science at the college level in Topeka.

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