Rep. Jessie Branson, who for the last 10 years has represented Lawrence and Douglas County in the Kansas Legislature, announced today that she will not seek re-election this fall.
Mrs. Branson, a Democrat, cited personal reasons for her decision. Among them, she said, is the desire to spend more time with her family.
"Obviously, I agonized over this decision," she said. "But there comes a time when you realize the need is there to be giving more attention to your family."
First elected to the Kansas House in 1980, Mrs. Branson, 69, is completing her fifth term as representative of the 44th district, which covers most of the western portion of Lawrence.
Fellow legislator Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, said Mrs. Branson will be sorely missed.
"She has shown a deep concern for all people," Charlton said. "There's been times when she has had to take a fine line and she's done it fairly.
"It's taken courage to do a lot of the things she's done."
MRS. BRANSON announced her decision to fellow Democratic House members in a meeting this morning.
Minority Leader Marvin Barkis, D-Louisburg, said he felt like he was loosing a good friend when he heard the news.
"Jessie's been a real good worker, and she's done a lot of things on issues I care about, like kids issues and health care issues," Barkis said.
Mrs. Branson is on the tax and education committees of the House, and for six years she has been the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Public Health and Welfare.
She has often championed health care issues.
In her first campaign in 1980, she strongly advocated upgrading the quality of care in nursing homes and for improving community programs for people with mental retardation.
"I have always been a strong believer in human capital," Mrs. Branson said.
DURING THE past three years, Mrs. Branson's primary focus in the Legislature has been on access to health care, which she said was a tough job to take on. But she said the work of the Commission on Access to Services for the Medically Indigent, which she helped chair for the last three years, is beginning to pay off.
"I believe the Legislature is at last recognizing that the crisis in health care is imminent, especially the emerging issues of the uninsured and the increasing incidence of AIDS," she said.
Another Lawrence Democrat, Rep. John Solbach, said Mrs. Branson has been "our resident expert" on many health care issues. He also said she was a very hard worker.
"This process will certainly miss Jessie Branson," Solback said. "When she takes on an issue, it gets worked."
During her first term in the Legislature, Mrs. Branson effectively sponsored legislation that required children to be in safety restraints while riding in motor vehicles. She remembered being heckled for that effort, but she kept at the bill until it passed.
"I WAS THE laughing stock of the Legislature," she said.
Mrs. Branson has also successfully sought Medicaid expansion for care of pregnant women and for infants and children of low-income families. And her amendment to provide education to preschool children with handicaps won approval.
She has also been active with other education issues. For example, an amendment she authored during the 1988 session to redefine district wealth in the school finance formula was adopted. It proved to be an important factor in preventing the Lawrence school district from loosing a considerable amount of state aid.
Sen. Wint Winter, R-Lawrence, said Mrs. Branson has been a model of sincerity and hard work during her 10 years in the Legislature.
"It takes all sorts of different people to make the Legislature work," he said. "Jessie has a lot of things others don't.
"She has a huge heart and a deep sincerity and commitment to causes she works on."
GARTH BURNS, chairman of the Douglas County Democrats Central Committee, said he was surprised and disappointed when Mrs. Branson told him of her decision last night.
"I certainly didn't expect it," he said.
And Chris Miller, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Central Committee, was also very surprised.
"I would expect with that announcement there will be significant interest in that seat," he said.
Miller said there has been some interest mentioned previously.
"But to be honest, she would have been tough to beat," he added.
Mrs. Branson said she has enjoyed her work in the Legislature.
"It has been an honor to represent the 44th District," she said. Lawrence is a community with the most active, interesting and exciting people in the state of Kansas."
Mrs. Branson said her plans for the future include "getting her house back into habitable condition" and spending lots of time with her husband, Dr. Vernon Branson, a Lawrence pediatrician, and her grandchildren.
The Bransons have four grown children and seven grandchildren.
"And I'll be playing some Bach on my harpsichord," Mrs. Branson added.