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Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Black caucus outlines challenges

October 1, 2000

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If you wanted to gather all of Kansas' black legislators in one place for a meeting, you could do it with a minivan.

There are only seven of them. Their small number represents one of the biggest challenges facing the state's African American Legislative Caucus, according to State Sen. Sherman Jones, D-Kansas City.

Jones, former chairman of the caucus, was among about 70 people attending the caucus's annual meeting Saturday at the Kansas Union on the Kansas University campus.

In addition to the legislators, community and school leaders and representatives of social service agencies from throughout the state had made plans to attend, said Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, caucus chaiwoman.

Several workshops on topics such as Kansas black history, voting empowerment and health issues, as well as a roundtable discussion, were held.

"We need to grow," Jones said of the challenge facing the caucus. "We're trying to see that the legislative caucus increases its leadership."

The caucus, which is held annually on a different university campus, used to draw as many as 200 people, Jones said. About 60 people were present for the start of morning sessions Saturday, but only two legislators Jones and Ballard were present. Other legislators were expected by midafternoon.

Ballard wants to see more minorities in the Legislature. She said one of the purposes of the caucus is to let members of the public see how they can become involved in legislative issues. It's difficult to recruit candidates because of the time an elected representative must devote to the job, she said.

"We have found some candidates, but they haven't always been successful," Ballard said. "We have worked with candidates, and that's all we can do. If you lose, then it's the vote of the people."

Another purpose of the caucus is to allow community leaders to interact with the legislators, Ballard said.

Ron Clark, a coordinator at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan., attended Saturday. He said he wanted to discuss education issues with the legislators.

Jones, who is retiring from the Senate after this year's election, was honored during the noon luncheon. Jones was a state representative from 1988 to 1992 and has been a senator since 1992.

He received a plaque and accolades from House Minority Leader Jim Garner, D-Coffeyville, and Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, at the luncheon.

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