Disillusioned O’Connor resigns Senate seat
Despite many appeals to reconsider, Kay O'Connor said there is no chance she will rethink her decision to resign from the 9th District Kansas Senate seat she has held since 2001.
"I've had a lot of people ask me to reconsider, but I just can't work with people I can't trust," the 64-year-old O'Connor said. "There were people I thought were my friends. I just don't want to share secrets with them and don't know if they would share secrets with me."
The outspoken and controversial Olathe Republican, who represents De Soto in the Senate, announced last week she would resign her seat sometime in the next two months. The move will give a caucus of precinct committeemen and women in the district time to select her successor before the start of the 2007 legislative session in January.
O'Connor said her decision was based on her disillusionment with the actions of longtime allies in her unsuccessful run for Kansas Secretary of State. Incumbent Ron Thornburg easily turned back her challenge in the August GOP primary.
Johnson County conservatives were supportive, O'Connor said, but that wasn't the case elsewhere in the state.
One of the strongest pro-life voices in Topeka during her 14-year legislative career, O'Connor was disappointed she shared the endorsement of Kansans for Life with Thornburg.
"How can Kansans for Life endorse Ron Thornburg at the same time as the Mainstream Coalition?" O'Connor asked. "They're mutually exclusive.
"Confucius say, 'Man who walks on both side of the fence, soon going to rip his shorts.'"
The decision of Kansans for Life in her race and the Republican gubernatorial primary, where staunch pro-life candidate Robin Jennison was overlooked, led to confusion among grassroots pro-life voters and may have contributed to poor voter turnout among conservative voters, O'Connor said.
Moreover, O'Connor said a number of longtime senatorial allies, particularly in the Wichita area, let her down.
"I couldn't get into Wichita," she said. "People who I helped in the past -- who I thought were my friends -- wouldn't return my phone calls."
The decision not to run will put an end to a colorful and controversial legislative career.
O'Connor, known as the voucher lady for her advocacy on that school funding issue, has made statewide and national news for pronouncements on such things as public breastfeeding and woman's suffrage -- although she denies making the statement against the 19th amendment attributed to her.
"She had a unique way about her," fellow Olathe Republican Sen. Karin Brownlee said.
O'Connor's success in four campaigns for the Kansas House and two for the Senate was based on ability to motivate the grassroots, Brownlee said.
"She had such good grassroots campaign skills and good connections to her constituents," Brownlee said. "I think it frustrated her political opponents that she had a way of connecting to the grassroots."
Topeka would be different in the coming session without O'Connor's presence, Brownlee said. But she added she was confident a good person would be found to replace the departing senator.
O'Connor said she and a number of political associates were looking for someone to endorse as her successor.
"We're actively doing that and have been doing that for a few weeks," she said. "We're waiting to develop a consensus. Some of the names you've probably heard of and some you haven't."
O'Connor said conservatives had more than enough votes to prevail in the caucus.
"We'll find a good replacement for me -- somebody pretty close to a like mind with me," she said. "Let younger blood get in there and fight the good fight on the legislative level. That person will have two years to establish incumbency."
O'Connor has had rocky relationships with officials from De Soto USD 232. The senator wrote a letter to The De Soto Explorer in the spring of 2004, relating a heated phone conversation between her and De Soto Superintendent Sharon Zoellner that developed after the superintendent called to invite O'Connor to tour the district.
"Our relationship with Kay was not a positive one," longtime USD 232 school board member Sandy Thierer said. "It deteriorated in the last few years.
"I'm looking forward to working with whomever the Republican caucus chooses as her replacement and hope we can have a dialogue that involves issues."
She will retain her part-time job at Padre Pio Academy in Shawnee teaching grammar and Latin. It will give her time to remain involved in politics despite her resignation from the Legislature, O'Connor said.
One of the things she wants to do is review the leadership decisions of Kansans for Life and the Kansas Republican Assembly in the summer's GOP primary, O'Connor said.
"I'm not stopping; I'm just turning a corner," she said. "I will be involved -- count on it."