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Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Senator with women’s suffrage doubts wants elections job

June 2, 2005

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— A state senator who once said women's voting was a sign that American society didn't value families enough now wants to be Kansas' top elections official.

Kay O'Connor announced Wednesday that she is seeking the Republican nomination for secretary of state next year. O'Connor, 63, from Olathe, has served in the Legislature since 1993 and is a member of the Senate committee that considers election issues.

Considered among the Legislature's most conservative members, she has long been an advocate of sending state tax dollars to parents and allowing them to send their children to whatever schools they choose, public or private.

In 2001, she received national attention for her remarks about the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1920, which gave women the right to vote. She said the amendment was a sign that men weren't taking care of women well enough.

On Wednesday, she dismissed the resulting controversy over her remarks - which led to an unsuccessful drive to recall her as a state senator - as "silliness." She said she doesn't think Kansas voters will allow it to become a significant issue.

"I am who I am. You don't have to agree with everything I say," O'Connor said. "I think men should take better care of their women, but I think women should be more willing to accept masculine care."

O'Connor is the first person to publicly announce as a candidate for secretary of state. Incumbent Ron Thornburgh is considering a run for the GOP nomination for governor and hasn't announced his plans.

In 2001, O'Connor decried a society that she said tears families apart, saying: "I think the 19th Amendment, while it's not an evil in and of itself, is a symptom of something I don't approve of."

She added: "The 19th Amendment is around because men weren't doing their jobs, and I think that's sad. I believe the man should be the head of the family. The woman should be the heart of the family."

O'Connor enters secretary of state race

Name: Kay O'Connor.

Age: 63.

Hometown: Olathe. Born in Everett, Wash.

Occupation: Director, Parents in Control, a nonprofit group that advocates for giving parents tax vouchers and allowing them to use the funds to send their children to the schools of their choice, public or private.

Education: Graduated, Lathrop High School, Fairbanks, Alaska, 1959; attended St. Ambrose University seminary, Davenport, Iowa.

Political Career: Elected to Kansas House, 1992, and re-elected three times; elected to Kansas Senate, 2000, and re-elected, 2004; candidate for GOP nomination for secretary of state for 2006.

Personal: She and her husband, Art, have six children.

On Wednesday, she stood by those statements.

"I don't deny saying that, and I will stick to my guns," she said. "I am not bashful about taking an unpopular position. I can take the heat."

Four years ago, the heat for O'Connor included a jab from Jay Leno during one of his "Tonight Show" monologues: "I think the Taliban voted her woman of the year." Leno was referring to Afghanistan's conservative Muslim government, later toppled by U.S. intervention.

But the attempt to recall O'Connor fizzled, and she won her primary race for re-election in 2004 with 54 percent of the vote, then the general election by a wider margin.

"I trust my instincts here," she said Wednesday. "I don't think the citizens are going to make a big issue of it."

O'Connor also noted that she has traveled across the state as director of Parents in Control, a group advocating school vouchers.

"I made a lot of friends. Their names and numbers and phone numbers are in my computer," she said. "I've been to every single county at least once, and many counties, I've been to half a dozen times."

But her candidacy could rally moderate Republicans and other political centrists, said Caroline McKnight, executive director of the conservative-battling Mainstream Coalition in Johnson County. O'Connor's remarks about women's voting are baggage, McKnight said.

"She's got some explaining to do, one more time," McKnight said. "If she thinks it's going to go away because she's on a statewide ballot, she's living on another planet."

And Mark Simpson, executive director of the state Democratic Party said, "I'm sure if Senator O'Connor were to get the nomination, that would be something we would want people to know about."

Thornburgh said he welcomes anyone's candidacy for elective office. As for O'Connor's comments about women's voting, he said, "I'll just let her words speak for themselves."

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