From having spent my higher education years (1968-1977) at schools in New England, and having worked in Washington, D.C., from 1977 until I moved to Kansas in 1993, I am well aware of the common stereotypes of the coastal elites about what they call “flyover America.” Whether it was Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign talking to an audience in California about these Americans “clinging to their guns and Bibles” or whether it was Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” remark in the 2016 campaign, all too often this part of America is portrayed as unenlightened and backward.
It is true Kansas is a heavily red state. It has not elected a Democrat to the U.S. Senate since 1932, and the last time it voted for a Democrat for president was in 1964. Right now, the state has two GOP U.S. senators and all four members of the U.S. House are Republicans.
But Kansas’ status as a reliably red state should not obscure the fact that on one key issue, namely women’s rights, the state has had a remarkable record of being forward-looking. In Kansas, women were given the right to vote in municipal elections in 1887 and were given full voting rights in 1912. The nation as a whole did not give women full voting rights until 1920. And, when the Equal Rights Amendment passed Congress in 1972, Kansas was one of 22 states that ratified it within a year.
As far as elected officials, the state has had two women governors and two women who were U.S. senators. Currently, the Kansas state Legislature is 28.5 percent women, making it the 15th highest state in the nation for the number of women legislators. The national average is 25.5 percent.
A critic of my line of argument would point to the crushing defeat Hillary Clinton received in the state of Kansas in the 2016 election – she got 36 percent of the statewide vote compared to Obama’s 38 percent in 2012. However, and I realize a lot of my readers will disagree with this statement strongly, I do not feel that the evidence of the 2016 election supports the interpretation that in Kansas and elsewhere, Clinton lost because of sexism.
Remember, Trump got 53 percent of the votes of white women. Few of these women voted against Clinton simply because she was a woman. No, Trump won in Kansas and in the rest of the nation in 2016 not because of sexism but because he reached out to groups of voters that the political class had forgotten – blue-collar workers in towns whose plants have left, rural and small-town voters weary of seeing their children sent off to endless overseas wars, etc.
March 8, 2018, was International Women’s Day. We take pride in our state’s advances toward equality for women, even though we still have a long way to go.
Ernest Evans is a Leavenworth Times columnist.