Women voters can force change

By A Contributor

This could become the year of the woman voter in Kansas. First, here is some data to “frame” the issue:

There are 1,084,000 women 18 or older in Kansas, according to 2012 U.S. Census estimates.

Of Kansas women 25 or older, 650,000 have associate’s degrees or less education; 350,000 of these have high school diplomas or less education.

There are 115,000 Kansas women who are heads of household; 75,000 of those have dependents in the home 18 or younger. Those who are mothers are not eligible for the same health care their children may receive unless, heaven forbid, their annual income is well under $8,000.

There are, according to that 2012 estimate, 279,000 single — never married — Kansas women, most of them under 30, many are low-skilled and unem-ployed or underemployed

Most Kansas K-12 teachers are women. Their employment status is now more capricious than before this last legislative session. Most nursing and non-professional personnel in health care are women. The further from an actual nursing degree or technical certification they are, the lower the pay and the poorer the benefits they receive. Also, women occupy most low-wage jobs in retail and food service .

In the presidential election year of 2012, 67 percent of registered Kansas voted.  The 1,183,000 voters who turned out were split by gender 50-50.  Presidential elections in Kansas consistently have 20 percentage points more turnout than “off-year” elections. This is perverse. In the off-years, we elect our governor and other statewide officeholders, and members of both the U.S. and Kansas House of Representatives — posts with tremendous impact on Kansas. In the 2012 election, approx-imately 500,000 Kansas women did not vote.  This year, if the off-year trend holds, 650,000 women will not be voting.

Of those 650,000, many will be economically fragile heads of household and young single women. These are people whose fates are often deeply affected by public policy — think school nutrition programs, public day care programs, arts in the schools and community, Pell Grants, student loans, job training, Medicaid, WIC and SNAP, various protective ser-vices, child support enforce-ment, and anti-discrimination enforcement work. The list could be extended. Many of these issues, even for women with more education and better jobs, were not addressed in ways that benefited them in the past two or four years.

Most of these women live in urban areas. If mobilized, they could affect the outcomes of elections at the state and federal levels.  Efforts by the Paul Davis-Jill Docking gubernatorial ticket and Jean Schodorf for secretary of state, along with the Reroute the Roadmap leadership, KNEA mobilizing and reaching out to this under-represented and economically stressed pop-ulation seem warranted.  The Libertarian guberna-torial candidate, Keen Umbehr, has made a distinction worth using. He’s pointed out that 17 percent of Kansas tax-payers have enjoyed great income tax relief from Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Legislature — and 83 percent have not. The numbers say few of the women noted here are in the 17 percent.

After the treatment these women have had in the past 42 months, they might be “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” Someone is paying attention. A coalition of groups has formed, and mem-bers are orchestrating the “Taking Back Kansas” conference in Wichita, Aug. 29 and 30.  Could it be that 2014 will be “The Year of the Woman Voter in Kansas?”

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