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Archive for Thursday, October 4, 2001

Senator’s words spark recall effort

Olathe lawmaker says remarks disparaging women’s suffrage misunderstood

October 4, 2001

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— An angry constituent has started an effort to recall a female legislator who was quoted as saying that women's suffrage was a sign that American society doesn't value families enough.

Ronda Hassig, 43, a middle school teacher in Lenexa, said she is organizing a campaign to remove state Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, because she believes the senator is not representing many of her constituents. She said the grounds for a recall most likely would be incompetence.

O'Connor received national attention for her comments last week that she did not view enactment of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as an event to celebrate and that women would not feel the need to vote if men took care of them properly.

"As a constituent, if she doesn't think women should be voting, she shouldn't be in office," Hassig said.

After O'Connor made her remarks, Kansas Atty. Gen. Carla Stovall, another Republican, said the senator should resign. Other legislators were stunned.

O'Connor said Wednesday that her statements were being misrepresented. She said she votes and encourages women to vote as well.

Last week, O'Connor confirmed that she told leaders of the Johnson County League of Women's Voters that she did not view the enactment of the 19th Amendment as an event to celebrate.

She said that women would not feel the need to vote if men took care of them properly and that women's suffrage was a sign that men weren't and still aren't doing their jobs. She said men should be the heads of households and women their hearts.

Her remarks quickly became national news.

In his "Tonight Show" monologue Monday night, Jay Leno joked, "I think the Taliban voted her woman of the year," referring to Afghanistan's ruling conservative Muslim government.

'Ridiculous nonsense'

O'Connor dismissed the controversy surrounding her as "simply ridiculous nonsense" and said she has no intention of resigning. Her term expires in 2004.

She said many of her critics erroneously assume that she does not think women should have the right to vote. Last week, she said she was taking a philosophical position and wouldn't take away any woman's right to vote.

"All of these people who had all these condemnations did not even give the courtesy of a phone call," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said since reports of her views have appeared, she's been on radio talk shows in California, New York and Indiana. She said she's received some positive responses.

But she is not keeping up with everything that is written about her.

"I'm just not going to read all that negative stuff," she said. "I'm not going to please everyone all the time."

In her statement, O'Connor criticized The Kansas City Star, which published the first story about her views in its Friday editions. She said the newspaper misrepresented her views and had created "a great deal of harmful confusion."

The newspaper stood by its story, noting that it had interviewed her four times and that she made her original comments in front of several people.

"Kay O'Connor's denial of her statements opposing the 19th Amendment is not surprising, given the outrage over her comments," said Mark Zieman, The Star's editor and vice president. "Although she may regret those comments now, she did indeed make them not only to The Kansas City Star but to representatives of the Johnson County League of Women Voters."

Recalls rare

Recall efforts for legislators and state officials are rare none since 1960 and difficult under Kansas law.

To force an election, Hassig and supporters of her effort would have to gather more than 12,000 signatures of registered voters in O'Connor's district, which has about 77,000 residents.

They have to gather 3,200 signatures just to gain approval from the secretary of state's office just to begin circulating petitions.

Hassig said she is not intimidated by the difficult recall process and plans to go door-to-door to collect signatures. She said she has contacted Republican Party officials and is consulting with an attorney.

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