Suffrage doesn't please female Kansas state senator

By FINN BULLERS - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/27/01 22:15

A prominent female state senator has said that she does not support the 19th Amendment, which guarantees women the right to vote, and that if it were being considered today she would vote against it.

Sen. Kay O'Connor recently told the co-presidents of the Johnson County League of Women Voters that the amendment was the first step in a decades-long erosion of traditional family values.

The Olathe Republican was in the audience at a public affairs forum on juvenile justice at Johnson County Community College on Sept. 19, when league co-president Delores Furtado asked her if she was planning to attend the league's "Celebrate the Right to Vote" luncheon.

"You probably wouldn't want me there because of what I would have to say," O'Connor told Furtado after the forum had ended.

"Wasn't it in the best interest of our country to give women the right to vote?" Furtado asked the senator.

"Not necessarily so," O'Connor said.

Although she does vote, O'Connor said in two subsequent interviews with The Kansas City Star that if men had been protecting the best interests of women, then women would not be forced to cast ballots and serve in the state legislature. Instead, they could stay home, raise families and tend to domestic duties, she said.

O'Connor, the Senate's vice chairman of the elections and local government committee, said she could not help celebrate the 81-year-old piece of legislation, even though it gave her a statewide soapbox to share her views on everything from tax policy to school vouchers.

Asked if she supports the 19th Amendment, the Republican lawmaker responded: "I'm an old-fashioned woman. Men should take care of women, and if men were taking care of women (today) we wouldn't have to vote.

"I'm sorry women have not been taken more care of," she said. "We have gotten the short end of the stick."

If the measure were up for ratification today, she said, she would not support it.

Furtado said she was dumbfounded by those views.

If O'Connor was just an ordinary citizen, Furtado said, "I'd say fine." But when she serves in the Senate, she represents many people. "She is the beneficiary of a system she doesn't support."

Beginning in the 1960s, O'Connor said in an interview, career doors began to open for women, bolstered by efforts of the earlier women's suffrage movement. The message to women, reinforced by books, television and magazines, O'Connor said, was to abandon more traditional homemaker roles and enter the workplace.

And with the onset of higher taxes to finance social welfare programs, said O'Connor, a 15-year homemaker, a second household income was necessary to make ends meet.

Consequently, the 19th Amendment was the beginning of a societal shift that today erodes traditional family values, she said.

O'Connor said that in her case, mounting medical bills to care for a sick daughter forced her into the workplace. Rules created by men did not allow her the opportunity to stay at home and care for her child, she said.

Searching for something to do in retirement, O'Connor got into politics by accident when she was drafted by a neighborhood gathering to run for the House of Representatives in 1992.

O'Connor, who concedes she has a reputation for speaking her mind, said she was not afraid to let her view be known.

"My husband is the head of the household and I am the heart. And the head can't live without the heart," she said during the interview. "I offer my suggestions, but I give (my husband) the right to make the final decision."

As a state leader, O'Connor said, it is more important to stay true to her convictions than simply mirror the views of her constituents.

"And if I don't get re-elected, my only punishment is to go home to my husband and my roses and my children and my grandchildren," she said. "And if the trips to Topeka get to be too much and my husband asks me to quit... I would."

O'Connor has just completed the first year of a four-year term in the Senate after serving eight years in the House of Representatives.

League co-president Janis McMillan also was surprised by O'Connor's views.

"It is mind-boggling," said McMillan. "Kay is proud of (her position) and isn't hesitant to tell anyone.

"To me, it sends the wrong message to women today that you don't need to use your mind -- just become an appendage to your husband."

The League of Women Voters is making final arrangements for its Oct. 9 luncheon.

The league hopes to hold a luncheon every year until 2020 -- the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

By then, organizers hope to have raised enough money to throw a yearlong community celebration to recognize women who blazed the trail for equal pay, the right to own property and the right to hold elected office.

Tickets, which cost $30, still are available.


To reach Finn Bullers, Johnson County government reporter, call (816) 234-7705 or send e-mail to