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Kansas Women, Politics & Power - April 26, 2019

Transom window to the governor's office in the Kansas Statehouse (Photo by J. Schafer)

Q: Last week, we talked about the first female mayors of Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri - Carol Marinovich and Kay Barnes - two graduates of the University of Kansas. This week's question concerns gubernatorial glory. A total of 20 states have never had a woman governor. Kansas has had three. Can you name all three?  

A: Joan Finney, Kathleen Sebelius and Laura Kelly

While 20 states have yet to elect their first female governors, Kansas has already elected three women to the state's top office.  

Topeka native Joan Finney served as the 42nd Governor of Kansas (from 1991 to 1995) and was the first woman to hold that office. The Topeka Democrat had previously served four terms as Kansas State Treasurer - and was the first woman to hold that office as well. After upsetting former Governor John Carlin in the 1990 Democratic primary for governor, Finney defeated incumbent Republican Mike Hayden in the general election, becoming the first woman to defeat an incumbent governor in a general election in the United States. In addition to being the first female governor in Kansas, Finney was the state's first Roman Catholic governor (and one of the few pro-life Democratic governors of her time). Finney died in 2001.  

Another Democrat, Kathleen Sebelius, served as the state's second female governor (from 2003 to 2009) and has the distinction of being the daughter of another governor. Her father served as a Democratic governor of Ohio. When she was elected governor herself, they became the first father/daughter governor duo in the United States. Sebelius served as the 44th governor of Kansas. She grew up in Ohio but moved to the Sunflower State in 1974. Prior to leading the state, Sebelius served in the Kansas House, representing Topeka. Later on, she was elected State Insurance Commissioner. Sebelius left the governor's office in 2009 when President Barack Obama appointed her to serve as U.S. Secretary for Health and Human Services, a position she held until 2014.   

The state's third female governor is the one we have now, Topeka Democrat Laura Kelly. She's the 48th governor of Kansas. Like Kathleen Sebelius, Kelly also served in the Kansas Legislature before becoming governor. Kelly served as a state senator, representing the Capital City. Also like Sebelius (but unlike Joan Finney), Kelly is not a native Kansan. She was born in New York City.

These three Kansas governors have a few things in common besides gender. All three are Democrats, all three began their political careers in Topeka (Joan Finney was even born there) and all three share the same religion: Roman Catholicism.  ####

Check out other Kansas Trivia questions in KPR's online trivia trove!


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