Monday, September 25, 2006

As laughter builds over Kansas Sen. Kay O'Connor's retirement, the joke's on us

By Diane Silver

Newspaper columnists are having a wonderful time chuckling over the impending retirement of state Sen. Kay O'Connor, R-Olathe, but in the long run I wonder if the joke will be on us.

By "us," I mean the smart-aleck progressives and moderates who are so happy to see O'Connor go.

O'Connor announced last week that she would leave the Kansas Senate before the January start of the next session.

An ultra-conservative, O'Connor is most well known for saying that women shouldn't have the vote, or at least, for claiming women wouldn't need the vote if their men took proper care of them. (It was sometimes difficult to pin O'Connor down on exactly what she said. She often claimed she meant something else than she said and then turned around and said the same thing again, but I digress)

First elected to the Kansas House in 1992 from her suburban Kansas City district, O'Connor was elected to the state Senate in 2000 and re-elected in 2004. Last month she was defeated 73 percent to 27 percent in the Republican primary when she ran against incumbent Ron Thornburgh for secretary of state. It didn't help that she was running for the job of Kansas' top election official and had just been fined for breaking election laws twice.

Here's how the newspaper pundits are viewing her retirement.

Mike Hendricks from the Kansas City Star laments:
Kay O'Connor quitting politics!?! Great, now what do I write about?
You want irony? O'Connor served it up like spaghetti and meatballs at the K of C Hall on all-you-can-eat pasta night.

Sometimes I had to fight off the temptation to write about her.

Naturally, the news story of her retirement hit on the more 'colorful' aspects of her 14-year career in the Kansas Legislature.

Most notably the reason why Jay Leno once joked that the Taliban named her "woman of the year."
Ric Anderson of the Topeka Capital-Journal notes:
When O'Connor announced recently that she was leaving the Kansas Senate, the Statehouse lost one of its most colorful characters. Or, depending on whom you asked, one of its most loony.
For my money, though, O'Connor's masterpiece came last May when she voted against a bill aimed at prohibiting 14-year-olds from marrying. O'Connor fought the bill on two fronts, saying it would pressure pregnant teenagers to get abortions and that it wasn't needed because history was chock full of successful women who married young, including -- that's right -- the Virgin Mary and Loretta Lynn
I never met O'Connor, but I did testify against the ban on same-sex marriage in front of her and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Much to my surprise, she didn't say a word or utter a question during my testimony or that of other opponents of the ban.

O'Connor just sat there glaring at us like a malevolent grandmother. I had the uneasy feeling that if she'd had her way, we would have all been marched out behind the woodshed for a good spanking -- at the very least.

However, I don't think we should be laughing right now.

Don't get me wrong. I am elated that O'Connor is leaving the Statehouse. She has done more harm than most people can imagine.

The real issue, though, isn't that this malicious character is finally leaving the Kansas Legislature. The real issue is how could someone as, well, "off" as O'Connor could ever be elected. How did she keep getting re-elected?

O'Connor wasn't a charismatic speaker or a personal charmer. She didn't even come close to representing many of the people of her Johnson County district. However, she won her district over and over again because she had the well-oiled political machine of the radical right-wing churches behind her. O'Connor couldn't pull in the support for a statewide office like secretary of state, but she could win her Senate district with the help of the churches.

My message to all you who are chuckling is to enjoy the moment. Get it out of your system. O'Connor's gone, but the real question is: How do we keep from getting someone just as bad or worse?

No comments: