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Missouri, Kansas women politicians celebrate history ahead of tough election

Sipping “pink pussyhat punch” and “empowerment” cocktails, women leaders from Missouri and Kansas gathered Thursday in downtown Kansas City vowing to “smash the patriarchy” by encouraging more women to run for office.

Hundreds of politicians and activists turned out for the 50th anniversary of the Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus, where a parade of candidates for office promised to champion reproductive rights and lauded Kansas’ recent vote to keep abortion protected under the state’s constitution.

“I’m the woman,” Trudy Busch Valentine, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri, said, pausing for emphasis, “who’s going to stop Eric Schmitt.”

The crowd — most of them women and overwhelmingly Democrat — erupted in cheers.

Valentine spoke alongside Kansas’ Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, who is up for reelection. When Kelly was introduced, the crowd burst into chants of “four more years.”

All night, girl power feminism was front and center. Even the front of the venue was painted with a stylized diagram of the female reproductive system emblazoned with the words “our body our choice.”

But Valentine and Kelly were speaking to a room of overwhelmingly like-minded, politically engaged individuals, where their promises to protect abortion access were uncontroversial. The caucus describes itself as bipartisan, but pro-abortion rights.

While heavy on symbols of feminism, including art of the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the event was light on any discussion of how to capitalize on the surge of political engagement among women or the droves of Republicans in Kansas who voted to protect abortion rights.

Last month, Kansas became the first state where voters got to decide the fate of abortion rights after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that found the U.S. Constitution contained a right to abortion. What was expected to be a close race turned out to be a resounding 59-41 victory for abortion rights.

In rural areas of Kansas, where former President Donald Trump twice won counties by 30 or 40 percentage points, the abortion race was close. And the more than 900,000 votes cast looked more like presidential election turnout than a primary.

Kelly lauded the Kansas vote and joked that Kansas would annex Kansas City, Mo., if Mayor Quinton Lucas asked.

“I’m proud to lead a state with a storied history in women’s rights,” Kelly said, noting the state elected the first female mayor in the U.S., was among the first states to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and was the first to hold a referendum on suffrage, which failed.

She called the defeat of the anti-abortion amendment in Kansas “one of our biggest victories yet.”

“This result would not have happened without tireless organizing from women and the men that support them,” Kelly said.

She noted that in the week after Roe v. Wade was overturned in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, women made up 70% of newly registered voters.

“But there are no final victories or defeats in politics,” she said. “There is still so much on the line this November.”

In November’s gubernatorial election, Kelly faces Republican Attorney General Derek Schmidt, who was long considered a moderate and is now running a conservative campaign with an endorsement from Trump. A poll last week showed Kelly with a 2-percentage-point lead over Schmidt, which is inside the margin of error.

Kelly then moved onto other topics, including fully funding public schools, expanding Medicaid and legalizing medical marijuana, quickly acknowledging the fight over abortion rights isn’t over.

And she called on women in the room to organize and show up. After her remarks, she said she hoped that was the message members of the crowd remembered.

“By virtue of making your voices heard so loudly, some people are starting to question the positions they’ve taken on some of these issues,” she said in an interview. “I think that happens when politicians recognize there’s a force to be reckoned with and their vote is being watched.”

Valentine called on the crowd to do all they can to protect democracy.

“As we’ve seen all across the country and this state, we know it’s women who are leading that charge,” Valentine said.

Valentine, a first-time candidate and heiress to the Anheuser-Busch beer fortune, is facing off with Schmitt, Missouri’s Republican attorney general, in a race most consider a major uphill battle for Democrats.

Following Thursday’s event, Valentine said women would be important in the November election.

“Women are going to be able to figure out if they feel that women have the ability to get abortion care and that you can’t make it a mandate. We have to reverse [Dobbs],” Valentine said. “We can’t take women back 50 years. We have to have women that have more autonomy and more equality.”

This article by Allison Kite is published by permission of The Missouri Independent.

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