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Archive for Tuesday, January 1, 2002

t worry state senator

January 1, 2002

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— She's been the subject of national attention and a recall effort in her district, but Sen. Kay O'Connor is staying the course.

O'Connor, 60, served eight years in the House and is beginning her second year in the Senate. She is not looking for the spotlight, just to make her opinions known, even if they are misconstrued.

"Early on, I sought attention for my issues," O'Connor said during a recent interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal. "But after that, I didn't seek the attention that I got. It just keeps coming."

Example: "Tonight Show" host Jay Leno labeled O'Connor Taliban woman of the year for her comments about the women's suffrage movement, though O'Connor has insisted she was misquoted about her thoughts on the 19th Amendment.

O'Connor, R-Olathe, acknowledges that she said she didn't believe the amendment was "necessarily" in the nation's best interest because it contributed to women neglecting their traditional roles as mothers and homemakers.

O'Connor said though she doesn't favor repealing the amendment, women wouldn't need to vote if men had done a better job of caring for them and leading the country.

Such beliefs have prompted Republican voters in her district in Johnson County to seek her recall. Steve Rose of the Johnson County Sun newspaper wrote a front-page column calling for her resignation.

"For years, the legislator has nibbled around the edges of being outrageous, but she has managed to stay barely inside the line. Now, she has gone too far," Rose wrote.

O'Connor describes herself as a conservative Catholic. She's known for her strong anti-abortion beliefs and her advocacy of tax-funded vouchers for parents who send their children to private schools.

"I'm honest to a fault, which has gotten me in trouble on more than one occasion," she said. "But I just believe that as an elected official I have an obligation to be as honest as possible with those people who may be voting for me. They have a right to know what is in my head and what is going to influence my vote."

The 2002 Legislature begins Jan. 14, and with political battles ahead, O'Connor relies on her faith and experience.

"What does it say in the Bible, always be prepared to show the reasons for the hope that is within you?" she said.

O'Connor became interested in politics in the early 1990s when anti-abortion forces were attempting to gain control of the Johnson County Republican Party. But she said she decided to run for the House only after learning that an anti-abortion candidate already had committed to run for the precinct post she intended to seek.

She does not want to be called a "liberated woman," either.

"Although some people would want to plant that label on me, I fight fiercely to take it away," O'Connor said, insisting that she is a "happy captive" who believes that wives should be obedient to their husbands.

O'Connor expects a tough re-election campaign in 2002 but believes conservatives will rally to her cause.

"They are off of their couches," she said. "Their fists are in the air."

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