Feb 04, 2020 1:05 PM

At the Rail: GOP pushing to pique interest of 'soccer moms'

Posted Feb 04, 2020 1:05 PM
<b>Martin Hawver</b>
Martin Hawver


Kansas Republicans made it clear last weekend that they are making a real push to get those suburban “soccer moms” on their side, at least at the general election, while Congressional District 3 primary contestants are wondering whether they can reclaim that congressional seat from a Democrat.

It’s all in the under-the-sheets politics, a convention of Kansans who are actively involved in the party and winning elections and trying to find that issue or candidate who can make sure Republicans continue to run the state and possibly the nation.

The Olathe convention—the annual state GOP gathering rotates among the four congressional districts—drew hundreds from border to border and some who were obviously worried they might not make it home in time to watch the Super Bowl.

But the key is electing Republicans for this crowd. It’s that simple.

Everyone is after those women voters, whom Republicans have lost to Democrats in the 3rd District especially, but across the state. And that focus is on finding the issue or two which will have those women stop off to vote a Republican ticket after dropping the kids at school.

That District 3? The prosperous, high-density Kansas Johnson/Wyandotte and a dab of Miami counties is now held by Native American/openly LGBT Democrat U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan., who beat white male four-term Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., in 2018 by 8 percent, or 46,000 votes.

Do Republicans go with former Kansas Republican Party Chair Amanda Adkins, who is on leave from Cerner Corp., or former Roeland Park Mayor Adrienne Foster, whose grandparents migrated – legally, she notes – from Mexico, or less politically involved former President/CEO of the National Down Syndrome Society Sara Hart Weir?

It’s a race among women in a district that has elected Republican women in the recent past, Jan Meyers from 1985-1997, then a male Democrat, Dennis Moore, from 1999-2011.

But is race an issue here? Foster says she can bring thousands of Mexican-American votes to the GOP, especially from Wyandotte County, to turn the seat back to Republican.

It’s a race to watch for the GOP nomination, and it’s also a monitor of whether GOP voters are willing to step outside the traditional voter bloc to win back a House seat.


Also at the convention, it was nearly all anti-abortion from the lips of candidates for their party’s nomination—support for that proposed constitutional amendment that if voted out of the Kansas House this week will put that measure on the same ballot as those primary election candidates.

Is anti-abortion the key here? Are those suburban women the GOP is scrambling to collect willing on the same ballot to reject their constitutional right to make their own decision on abortion that the Kansas Supreme Court has proclaimed belongs to them and them alone, and elect candidates who want to limit that decision?

It’s the female vote that Republicans are after in most districts, and while there are many general conservative government issues that those GOP primary candidates are going to be to hawking to men and women, the vote on that proposed constitutional amendment to strike the right guaranteed to women by that “non-elected court” and handing it to elected legislators is going to be decisive in many districts.

That citizen right through the “power of the vote” to elect anti-abortion or abortion-rights lawmakers who can make laws to restrict or even prohibit abortion is surely one of the keys to many of those suburban mom Republican votes, which may define the GOP primary winners.

We’ll see how the strategy works…

Syndicated by Hawver News Company LLC of Topeka; Martin Hawver is publisher of Hawver's Capitol Report—to learn more about this nonpartisan statewide political news service, visit the website at www.hawvernews.com

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Feb 04, 2020 1:05 PM
Kan. falls short helping HS grads with disabilities in workforce
Project Search intern Genesis Coleman cares for children at the Child Development Center on McConnell Air Force Base. Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

By STEPHAN BISAHA, Kansas News Service

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kansas — Nikki Heiman was excited to learn that the state was sending a job counselor to work with her son, Trenton, a high school student with Down syndrome.

But that excitement fizzled when Heiman learned the specialist could only meet with Trenton once a month — and only for 15 minutes. That’s all the time the counselor could squeeze into her schedule while handling a large caseload that forces her to shuttle between multiple counties.

“We were very disappointed,” Heiman said. “When you cover five counties, you spend so much of your workweek driving and not nearly enough providing services to people who need support.”

State agencies want Kansans with disabilities in the workforce. Even earning a modest wage can bring added purpose and pride to their lives, and stability. But landing and keeping a job, especially for people with cognitive challenges, can prove daunting.

To make that happen, counties across the state turn to the private Project Search program. The national program pairs disabled workers with employers and gives workers some of the special tools they need to keep things humming in an office or on a shop floor.

Project Search

Genesis Coleman’s long legs made for an awkward fit in a chair made for someone half his size. But he read to the 1-year-old sitting next to him. The day’s book: “Teeth Are Not For Biting.”

Project Search intern Genesis Coleman reads to a 1-year-old at McConnell Air Force Base's child care center. Credit Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

After graduating from Derby Public Schools, Coleman signed up for a year-long internship at McConnell Air Force Base’s child care center through Project Search.

Coleman hopes to earn a job working with children, possibly as a teacher’s aide. He has autism and he’s learning at McConnell how to deal with kids. That includes adapting to their heightened emotions, especially sadness.

“I ask them what’s wrong,” Coleman said. “I sometimes just let them just stay with me. And, you know, just tell them it’s alright sometimes.”

Project Search works with 13 Kansas job sites, including hospitals, universities and hotels. Instructors try to keep a light touch on supporting the interns on the job.

“We have high expectations because we don’t want them to fail when they get their full-time, paying job,” said Vicki Rierson, a Project Search instructor for Derby Public Schools.

Besides the work experience, interns spend part of their day in class. The lessons range from financial literacy to self-care — topics meant to help students in their life during and after work.

Derby Public Schools Project Search instructor Vicki Rierson teaches interns about financial literacy. Credit Stephan Bisaha / Kansas News Service

After eight years in Kansas, Project Search says 74% of its interns land jobs. Only about 46% of working age Kansans with disabilities are employed. For those with cognitive disabilities, it’s 35%.

Project Search helps about 100 interns a year in Kansas. The Kansas Department for Children and Families estimates that more than 16,000 students 16 and older have a disability.

Kansas offers job counseling for students and graduates with disabilities, but the state doesn’t have enough counselors for everyone.

Market Forces

Kansas struggles to hire the counselors it needs because they can make more in other states. Counselors in Nebraska make $20,000 more than those in Kansas.

But the tight Kansas labor market could also make it easier to convince employers to hire more workers with disabilities, their advocates say. They say that with workers scarce, businesses can’t afford to ignore any job applications.

“Any employer you talk to will tell you how hard it is to hire good help these days,” said Rocky Nichols, head of the Disability Rights Center of Kansas. “Well, guess what? There are tons and tons of people with disabilities who have talents, who have abilities and skills, who are being unutilized in our Kansas economy.”

Even after getting hired, Kansans with disabilities still need ongoing support, So do their employers. Advocates say businesses need training in how to accommodate someone with a disability.

With just minimal support, like having an advocate check in at work every few months, 70% of workers with cognitive disabilities stay successful, said Craig Knutson, a policy analyst with the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities. He said that without the support, most lose their job after five years.

Employers may need lessons on how to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak. A worker with Down syndrome may need more supervision and direct instructions to stay on task.

And as a task changes — like a filing system going from physical to digital — more training has to happen.

Project Search approached Jennifer Jull-Sullivan about taking on an intern at her veterinary practice a few years ago. She previously had one employee with a disability work at Blair Doon Veterinary Hospital for about a decade. But the employee’s condition eventually worsened until she could no longer work. Jull-Sullivan eventually did take on the intern and eventually hired him as a kennel assistant. That’s a choice she likely wouldn’t have made without support before and after the internship.

“I really did feel like I’d had my hand held all the way through,” Jull-Sullivan said. “It worked very nicely.”

Stephan Bisaha reports on education and young adult life for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @stevebisaha.