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Kansas legislative forum sparks debate over treatment of Black female candidates • Kansas Reflector

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Kansas legislative forum sparks debate over treatment of Black female candidates • Kansas Reflector


TOPEKA — As the first Black woman to run the Kansas Democratic Party, Jeanna Repass knows what it’s like to be told to step down for a white male politician. Her message: “It’s got to stop.” 

The competition over Topeka’s District 19 Senate seat has reignited conversation about the treatment of women of color running for seats at the state and local level.  

In Senate District 19, House Minority Leader Vic Miller is involved in a five-candidate race for an open seat. Cynthia Smith and Tyler Wible are running in the Republican primary, while ShaMecha King Simms and Patrick Schmidt are running against him in the Democratic side. The district stretches east from Topeka to Lawrence, including Tecumseh and Lecompton.

During a May 11 Democratic candidate primary forum, Miller said he expected a record number of Democratic women candidates on the ticket and that the legislature needed more women. 

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Then he addressed Simms.

“ShaMecha, that’s not an endorsement of you,” Miller said. “Your time’s another day, another place.”  

Miller later said he meant his comment as a compliment. Others have called it part of a disturbing pattern in state politics. 

“I’ve been in politics long enough to know that people take things out of context,” Miller said in a Kansas Reflector interview. “It would be silly for me to say that it was her time to beat me. I’m in the race, and I don’t know what’s in her future. But as far as the immediate future, I think I’m the best candidate, or I wouldn’t be running myself. …  I’m not in this race to lose or to endorse somebody running against me. That was the context. It was actually meant as a compliment, not as a slight.”   

Repass put the incident another way:  “Everyone supports women running until a woman wants to run against them. Everyone supports candidates of color until candidates of color want to run against them.”

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She added: “Those punches land. They’re meant to land, and they do. They land, and they hurt.” 

Repass emphasized that as party chair, she is not endorsing or opposing any candidates in the race, but she felt the need to share her own perspective. During her run for the party seat, Repass’ competitor was Lynn Rogers, a former lieutenant governor and state treasurer. 

After announcing her intent to run, Repass received a phone call from someone she didn’t want to identify but characterized as a “white male who has been formidable in Kansas politics.” Her phone was on speaker, so her son also heard everything. 

She says that he told her: “ ‘You blacks. When you speak well, you can talk people into anything. … Jeanna, you can be a preacher. You can be anything you want, but you can’t be the chair. It’s Lynn’s turn. It’s his time.’”

When she watched the video of the May candidate forum, Repass remembered that call. She said she felt shocked and disturbed. 

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“It was very disappointing to me that I am leading a party where anyone is going to tell anyone else, in an open democratic process, that you should not be running for something,” Repass said. “There’s room for all of us to add our voices. But in particular, when it is white men telling black women when our time and when our place is to run, it is beyond disappointing. It is disturbing. And I will tell you I find it unacceptable and it’s got to stop.” 

Miller’s statement was the catalyst for the “It’s Our Time Kansas! — A Celebration of Women of Color Candidates,” campaign event held by the Topeka chapter of The Links, Incorporated. The Links is an international nonprofit including more than 17,000 women of African descent committed to sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival for women of color.  

The event supported Simms and fellow women of color state legislative candidates, including Stacey Knoell, Brooklynne Mosley and Jessica Porter. Knoell is running for the Senate District 23 seat. Mosley is running for the Kansas House of Representatives District 46 seat, and Porter is running for the Kansas House of Representatives District 50 seat. 

Simms said the incident allowed for a larger conversation about values, unspoken biases and legislative mentalities. 

“I think what we’re really up against now, we’re trying to birth a new way of relating to one another, and the old ways don’t work for that,” Simms said. “They’re stuck in a cycle that doesn’t allow for growth. It doesn’t allow for reflection, and without reflection and growth, we can’t move the ball forward. And that’s really just kind of where I stand on that. I want to see growth.”

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Southeast Kansas museum offers in-depth geology lesson

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Southeast Kansas museum offers in-depth geology lesson


FRANKLIN, Kan. — A local museum offered an in-depth geology lesson.

The Miners Hall Museum presented “The Geology of Coal Mining” hosted by Andy Connolly, Larry Spahn, and David Jenkins.

This was the third and final show of the Little Balkans Coal Camp West Mineral exhibit.

The presentation explains the different types of rocks found in Kansas and goes in detail of how they got there.

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Connolly also brought samples of rocks, minerals, and fossils from Kansas for the audience to pass around and inspect.

“You don’t need a fancy degree to be a scientist, you can go out in the field and find and identify rocks, minerals, and fossils. You can observe the natural way, the natural world, and really think about how the world has changed over millions of years. You don’t need a degree, you just need curiosity and a love for the outdoors,” said Andy Connolly, Kansas Geological Survey science communication specialist.

Connolly went on to talk about the three major influences on the geology of Kansas — ancient oceans that used to cover the land, the Rocky Mountains, and ice ages.



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Live Updates: Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers (Game Three)

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Live Updates: Kansas City Royals at Texas Rangers (Game Three)


On Sunday, the Kansas City Royals will face the Texas Rangers in the third game of their series at Globe Life Field. The Royals, now holding a 42-36 record, aim to avoid a series sweep after dropping the first two games to the Rangers.

Alec Marsh (RHP) will take the mound for the Royals. Marsh has a 5-4 record with a 4.25 ERA and 68 strikeouts this season. He’ll be looking to deliver a strong performance and help Kansas City get back on track after a brutal stretch of games.

For the Rangers, Max Scherzer (RHP) will be making his first start of the season. Scherzer, a seasoned veteran with an impressive career, is making his first appearance of the season. His presence on the mound adds an element of intrigue to the matchup.

Fans can catch the game on Bally Sports Southwest and Bally Sports Kansas City.

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Kids Count report shows Kansas children struggling with poverty, reading and math

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Kids Count report shows Kansas children struggling with poverty, reading and math


Kansas Action for Children vice president Adrienne Olejnik and data and policy analyst Ryan Reza prepare for a recording of the Kansas Reflector podcast. KAC partners with the Annie E. Casey Foundation to produce the annual Kids Count report, which shows Kansas slipping in the overall ranking. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Annual report says 40% of kids endure harmful impact of ‘adverse’ life experiences

BY: TIM CARPENTER, Kansas Reflector

TOPEKA — A 50-state assessment showed the percentage of Kansas children living in poverty declined and the portion of teens not in school or working increased, while there were increases in fourth graders struggling with reading and eighth graders flustered by math.

The 2024 Kids Count report, compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and based on the most recent data, ranked Kansas 19th overall on education, economics, health and family conditions relevant to raising a child. That was a decline from an ranking of 17th in 2023.

Kansas placed among its four neighboring states in the 2024 assessment as Nebraska stood at 9th, Colorado was 17th, Missouri finished 32nd and Oklahoma trailed at 46th.

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Looking at changes in household data on child welfare, the Casey Foundation said Kansas had taken steps forward in half of 16 well-being measures contained in the annual report.

Adrienne Olejnik, a vice president at Kansas Action for Children, which partners with the Casey Foundation on the report, said trendlines suggested more could be done by public officials to prepare the next generation of Kansans to enter the workforce or college.

“At the end of the day, we want kids to succeed,” Olejnik said on the Kansas Reflector podcast. “We want the scores to improve. So, we have to keep showing up at the table with good data.”

Out of hand ACEs

The new report indicated that in 2021-2022 an estimated 40% of Kansas children experienced one or more “adverse childhood experiences” capable of creating harmful levels of stress and undermining their mental development and ability to cope with life challenges.

Examples of ACEs could range from traumatic episodes related a family death, substance abuse or crime as well as unstable housing, divorce or not having enough to eat.

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“These start to stack up. And the reason that they are so important … is that it directly impacts their brain development at that time. We can mitigate these ACEs through trusting relationships with adults,” Olejnik said.

Kids Count says 38,500 or 5% of Kansas children were without health insurance in 2022, which was slightly better than the 6% of 2019. Olejnik said the health care picture would improve if more Kansas families had access to affordable, quality medical services. One option for Kansas lawmakers would be to join 40 states that approved expansion of eligibility under the Medicaid program.

Expiration of COVID-19 federal programs that inflated Medicaid enrollment will leave more families without health coverage in the future.

“Having health insurance reduces the stress in the household so that parents can focus on other things related to their children,” she said.

In terms of other health factors influencing child welfare, Kansas’ percentage of low birth-weight babies climbed to 7.8% in the latest report. That was an increase from 7.6% in 2019.

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In addition, the state’s figure for child and teen deaths per 100,000 people went up to 35 in the new report compared to 28 in 2019. The updated report says 29% of Kansas children and teens, aged 10 to 17, were overweight. The national figure stood at 33%.

The net result of state-by-state shifts left Kansas ranked 19th nationally in child health indicators, an upgrade from 22nd in the 2023 report by the Casey Foundation.

Education erosion

The Casey Foundation revealed 69% of fourth-graders in Kansas weren’t proficient in reading and 77% of the state’s eighth-graders had not reached proficiency in math on the 2022 National Assessment of Education Progress. Nationally, 68% of fourth-grade readers and 74% of eighth-grade math students were less than proficient in 2022 on NAEP.

“We’re seeing a decline in proficiencies across the country. Kansas is by no means the worst,” said Ryan Reza, data and policy analyst for Kansas Action for Children. “We’re kind of seeing this general trend with NAPE scores. It started prior to the pandemic, but it was exacerbated by the pandemic.”

The percentage of Kansas children 3 to 4 years of age not in a preschool program climbed to 56% from 2018 to 2022 from 54% in 2013 to 2017.

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Meanwhile, Kansas continued to improve its standing in terms of motivating high school students graduate on time. Eighty-eight percent of Kansas students graduated on time in 2020-21, but the pre-COVID-19 benchmark for timely graduation from high school was 87% in 2018-19.

These numbers placed Kansas at 28th in the United States, which was a decline from 26th in last year’s report.

Economic, family status

The volume of Kansas children living in poverty was 14% in 2022, up from 13% the previous year and down from 15% in 2019. In 2022, the national average was 16%. In terms of Kansas, that meant about 90,000 children in Kansas resided in homes with a household income of $29,600 for a family of two adults and two children.

The portion of Kansans whose parents lacked secure employment registered at 20% in 2022, which was better than the national average of 26%.

There was an uptick in the percentage of Kansas teens not in school and not working: 6% in 2022 versus 5% in 2019. However, Kansas’ ranking on this factor fell from 11th to 16th compared to the rest of the nation.

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The  figure for Kansans living in households with a high housing cost burden grew to 23% in 2022, an escalation from 22% in 2019.

Reza said Kansas had generally stayed in the top 10 nationally in terms of economic well-being, but dropped out of that elite group in the new Kids County analysis. In the 2024 report, Kansas ranked 12th after falling from seventh in the 2023 report.

“Other states have done more work, especially in the years following the pandemic,” Reza said.

On family and community metrics, the Case Foundation said Kansas ranked 23rd nationally — a nudge to the better from 24th in last year’s edition of the Kids Count report.

For example, the number of Kansas children living in poverty was at 6% based on a four-year average from 2018 to 2022. That was an upgrade from 7% over the 2013 to 2017 period.

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Kansas recorded fewer teen births per 1,000 residents in 2022 with 16, which was an improvement from 19 per 1,000 in 2019. Also, the percentage of children living in single-parent families moved to 29% in 2022, a reduction from 30% in 2019. Another improvement: 9% of children had a head of household without a high school diploma in 2022. In 2019, that number for Kansas was 10%.



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