Topeka The Kansas Legislature that convened Monday will have the fewest number of female lawmakers in the state since 1988, but some of those women are serving in high leadership positions.
Kansas will have 39 women out of 165 members in the legislature, ranking 26th nationally, its lowest ranking since 1979, according to the Rutgers University Center for American Women in Politics.
In comparison, the state had 55 female legislators and ranked fifth in the nation after the 1998 election.
Despite the drop, female legislators moved into leadership positions this session. Sen. Susan Wagle is the state’s first female Senate President, Rep. Peggy Mast was elected House Speaker Pro Tem and four of the Democrats’ six House minority leadership positions went to women.
Republican Rep. Amanda Grosserode of Lenexa said last year’s redistricting is likely part of the reason that fewer women were elected.
After three federal judges drew up new districts because lawmakers were unable to do so, several incumbents ran against each other in the primary and general election. Grosserode pointed out that Rep. Melanie Meier, D-Leavenworth, defeated Rep. Jana Goodman, R-Leavenworth, in a 41st District race.
However, voters also chose an incumbent woman over an incumbent man in some districts, including Topeka, where voters re-elected Democrat Rep. Annie Tietze over Republican Rep. Mike Burgess.
The number of women didn’t change in the Senate, which has four Democratic women and eight Republican women. Democrats added one woman in the House, but Republicans lost seven women, from 19 to 12.
Tietze suggested Democrats might be more inclined to nominate women for office, noting half of the Senate’s eight Democrats are women and 15 of the 33 Democrats in the House are women. Meanwhile, there are now 80 male Republicans in the House and 12 female Republicans.
“I don’t know how they recruit,” Tietze said. “Whether it’s better recruiting, better support of our women, or Democratic women are stronger personality-wise, I don’t know.”
Grosserode disagreed, saying she was actively recruited and had never seen any reluctance from Republican voters to support women. In the 76th District primary, Emporia Rep. Peggy Mast defeated two male Republican incumbents last year.
Grosserode said she believes some women may be reluctant to go into politics because they have children.
“It is a serious, serious consideration,” she said.
But Mary Akerstrom, of Capital City NOW, said as the Legislature has become more conservative, it has become less friendly to women.
“Women have become one more disenfranchised group,” Akerstrom said.