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Archive for Saturday, January 4, 1992

WOMEN LEGISLATORS ARE MAKING STRIDES

January 4, 1992

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Rep. Betty Jo Charlton, D-Lawrence, says she's been in Topeka long enough to have been witness to changes in how women legislators are treated.

She quickly remembers one her first committee assignments. She was the only woman on the House Transportation Committee, Charlton remembers, and the other legislators didn't seem to understand her role at first.

They evidently thought she was the secretary because they dropped their papers in front of her, expecting her to take care of them, she said. Charlton said she was quick to let them know she was a committee member.

Recalling that incident this week, Charlton, who was appointed to the House in 1980, said, "That isn't likely to happen now."

Times have changed for the better, she said.

Rep. Sandy Praeger, R-Lawrence, thinks she is benefiting from those changes.

"Overall, I feel like we're treated as colleagues," said Praeger, who was elected in 1990.

STEVI STEPHENS, D-Tonganoxie, agreed. Stephens, who also was elected in 1990, said she would like to see more women in the Legislature.

"I would like to see every political body reflect its population," said Stephens, an environmental activist.

According to the secretary of state's office, there are 36 women in the Kansas House and nine women in the Senate.

Rep. Judy Macy, D-DeSoto, who was elected in 1990, said Kansas ranks high for the number of women in its legislative body.

"I believe we rank 10th in the nation, and that says a lot for Kansas," Macy said.

MACY SAID her experiences at the statehouse have been good so far.

"I've felt that as a female representative, I'm given as much respect as the men," Macy said.

She said Marvin Barkis, speaker of the House, has a "lot of respect for women and treats them as equals."

Macy said she was surprised when Barkis, D-Louisburg, appointed her vice chair of the House Elections Committee.

"I felt he really did think of us as not a woman or a man but as a legislator and what we were capable of," said Macy, an attorney. "The women who are up there are very strong women anyway."

Macy, as well as Charlton, Praeger and Stephens, said she didn't run because she thought the Legislature should include more women.

"It had nothing to do with gender," Macy said.

However, Macy said she did wonder whether people in her district would vote for a woman.

OVER THE years, the climate at the statehouse has become less condescending toward women, Charlton said.

In past years, "a woman had to become one of the boys" to succeed, Charlton said. Stephens said she's glad that the women in the House don't just "emulate men's roles" but bring a feminine perspective to the issues.

Praeger said she appreciated "the good women before us" who paved the way. Charlton said she's pleased to see some of the younger women moving into more powerful positions.

All of the legislators said the men of the House respect their female counterparts.

"Of course, there are some guys who are aggravating" at times, like anywhere else, Stephens said.

Macy recalled only a few questionable situations, including one time when the women in the House were asked to pin boutonnieres on the Capitol guards.

"I didn't think that was necessary," Macy said.

MACY ALSO remembered a situation when a woman was running for a particular office, and some legislators thought she would receive the "woman's vote" because she was a woman.

She didn't win, Macy said.

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