- Associated Press - Monday, January 12, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas doesn’t have a single woman holding an elected statewide office for the first time since 1966.

When Insurance Commissioner Sandy Praeger left office Monday, it left men in charge of every statewide office, The Kansas City Star reported (http://bit.ly/1BYHt8f ).

While some bemoan the situation, calling it a setback for women, others think it’s just an aberration, saying the three women who ran for statewide office in November likely lost because they were Democrats facing GOP incumbents, not because of their sex. They also note that Kansas has a sitting congresswoman, U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, and that Susan Wagle will become the state Senate’s first female president.

Five other states - Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia - also have no women holding a statewide office this year, according to the Center of American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The change is a shift in Kansas’ recent political makeup. Less than 20 years ago, five women were serving in statewide elected office in Kansas: Nancy Kassebaum, Sheila Frahm, Carla Stovall, Sally Thompson and Kathleen Sebelius. Three were Republicans and two Democrats.

“It’s always hard to tell if something is a trend or just the way it happened to turn out one time,” said Clay Barker, the executive director of the Kansas GOP. “I doubt the candidate’s gender is an important factor to voters.”

Women officeholders in Kansas say a toxic political environment makes many women reluctant to seek office. Politics have changed since women were serving in the 1970s, said Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Republican.

“Politics has become nastier,” she said. “A lot of women tend to want to avoid the slings and arrows that you get in the political world.”

Having women in leadership roles is important, political experts said.

“Having a woman serve in office can have an impact on policies,” said Brianne Heidbreder, a Kansas State University professor who studies the role of gender in state governments. “Not only that, but women in office can actually have an impact on their male colleagues.”

And younger women might notice the lack of female officeholders, said Bob Beatty, Washburn University political science professor.

“By having all men sitting in those chairs (Monday), if that picture’s in the paper the next morning, what are you telling a 10-year-old girl?” he asked. “She’s seeing a visual there that all the people in power are men.”

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Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com

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