The Kansas Senate race could determine control of Congress - but there isn't a Democrat involved. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.
Kansas is in the midst of not one, but two, close-call midterm races: the Senate race between Senator Pat Roberts (R) and Greg Orman (Independent), and the Governor’s race between Governor Sam Brownback (R) and State Representative Paul Davis (D). The Senate race has been closely watched since the Democratic candidate, Chad Taylor, dropped out in September, launching Orman, running for Senate as an Independent, into the hot seat and giving the political landscape in Kansas an extra dose of unpredictability. Orman bills himself as “fiscally responsible and socially tolerant,” and it is unclear which party he would more closely align himself with if elected. What is clear is that Kansas voters are still undecided, with almost every poll predicting a different election outcome. The race for this Senate seat in Kansas may very well decide which party controls Congress, and women voters in Kansas could determine which way the tide turns.
Where do women in Kansas stand?
- As in most states, women in Kansas face higher poverty rates than men, and women of color experience rates almost twice that of white women.
- Over 40 percent of female-headed households live in poverty.
- Kansas is the only state in the country that saw its uninsured rate significantly increase in the last year. Fourteen percent of women (18 percent of African Americans and 28 percent of Latina women) in Kansas (age 19-64) are uninsured.
- Kansas is not participating in Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, leaving approximately 78,000 currently uninsured adults, half of whom are women, who would have otherwise qualified, without coverage.
- Sixty percent of minimum wage earners are women.
- According to the National Women’s Law Center, the unemployment rate for women in Kansas in 2011 was 6.2 percent, a 2.1 percentage point increase since the recession began in December 2007. 41.7 percent of jobless women workers in Kansas had been looking for work for 27 weeks or more.
- Women also face a persistent gender wage gap – while women overall make only $0.76 for every dollar a white man makes, African American women make $0.66 to the dollar and Hispanic women only make $0.50 to every dollar.
- The state has no paid sick leave or family leave policies.
- Kansas passed a law in 2011 that blocked any clinic or provider that provides abortions from receiving Title X federal family planning funds (federal law already prevents Title X funds from being used for abortion but does allow providers to use other funding sources to pay for such services).
Where do the candidates stand?
Affordable Care Act
Senator Pat Roberts has consistently opposed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and is a vocal critic who advocates for complete repeal of the law. He was the first to call for the resignation of Kathleen Sebelius, the then-Secretary of Health and Human Services, and supported the federal government shutdown during the debate to defund the ACA. In the past, Roberts has supported federal health care spending, voting for the 2003 Medicare prescription drug benefit and supporting efforts at the federal level to expand access to health care service delivery options in rural areas.
Greg Orman has criticized the ACA as an expansion of a “broken system” and says he would have voted against it if he had been in the Senate, but has said he does not support repealing the entire ACA. He has also said that Governor Brownback made a mistake in not accepting federal money to expand Medicaid in Kansas.
Roberts supported the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, saying “Every American has a right to the free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment to our Constitution.” Roberts voted no on adopting an amendment to the Senate’s 2006 budget that allocated $100 million to increase funding and access to family planning services (including creating and expanding teen pregnancy prevention and education programs).
Orman disagreed with the Hobby Lobby ruling, saying on his website that the case “is a dangerous precedent to set and opens the door to many more court challenges from private employers.” He also says that, “As a man, I’ll never face some of the decisions women have to make. I know the women of Kansas are smart, and I trust them to make their own decisions about their reproductive health.”
Kansas has passed a number of restrictions on abortion, including, among other restrictions, a 24-hour waiting period, state-directed counseling, the requirement that an optional rider must be purchased at additional cost for abortion coverage in private insurance, the prohibition of telemedicine for medication abortions, parental consent for a minor, and an ultrasound requirement. Many of these requirements were passed in an omnibus bill in April 2013 and are currently being challenged in two different lawsuits.
Roberts is a staunch abortion rights opponent and has voted a number of times in support of federal restrictions on abortion access, including an amendment prohibiting minors from going across state lines for abortion services, a bill that would make harming a fetus during a violent crime a criminal offense, the 2003 “partial-birth” abortion ban, and the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act. In a recent debate with Orman, Roberts blasted him for suggesting that a debate on abortion was detracting from other important issues. "Get past the rights of the unborn? Get past the guarantee of life for those at the end of life? ... I think that's unconscionable," Roberts said.
Orman has said he supports access to abortion services and that he believes “it’s time for our government to move past this issue and start focusing on other important issues.”
Violence Against Women
Roberts was one of 22 Senators to vote against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013. It was his second time voting against the bill. Many who opposed VAWA considered it an overreach of the federal government to include specific new protections for immigrants, gays, and Native Americans.
Orman's campaign materials and website do not mention violence against women.
Minimum wage and the social safety net
Roberts does not support raising the minimum wage. Roberts also added an amendment, which ultimately did not pass, to the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013 (the Farm Bill) to cut $12 billion in addition to the $4 billion already in the bill that did pass from the SNAP program (also known as food stamps).
Orman supports tying a federal rise in the minimum wage to inflation, and believes that areas with higher costs of living should have a higher minimum wage. He has not said anything publically on food stamps or other social safety net programs.
Read the rest of this series here.
Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.
Shulie Eisen is an independent reproductive health care consultant. Follow her on Twitter @shulieeisen.