Say goodbye to powerful women in KC area counties

08/18/2014 9:08 AM

08/18/2014 9:14 AM

Exactly 10 years ago today, women were the top officeholders in Jackson, Johnson, Clay, Wyandotte and Platte counties.

That was an amazing and unprecedented amount of clout for women in the Kansas City area.

However, when Clay County Presiding Commissioner Pam Mason lost her bid for re-election earlier this month, it all but assured that women will hold none of the top offices in those five large counties after November.

It’s yet another indication of how poorly women are doing in holding on to power in the region.

First, check out the heyday of 2004.

That’s when Carol Marinovich was leading the Unified Government of Wyandotte County, Katheryn Shields was the top executive in Jackson County, Annabeth Surbaugh was commission chair in Johnson County, and the presiding commissioners in Platte and Clay counties were Betty Knight and Carol McCaslin, respectively.

All were respected and active leaders of their communities.

But since 2005, men have replaced most of those women (as will happen in Clay County this fall, when two men square off for presiding commissioner).

Marinovich left office in 2005.

Shields followed in 2006 and Knight in 2010.

Surbaugh was defeated for re-election in 2010.

McCaslin was defeated for re-election in 2006 (though Mason won the seat back for women in 2010).

As I’ve written for years, women have many of the same strengths and weaknesses of male politicians when it comes to running local governments.

It’s also true, though, that the rise of women to positions of power — especially in county governments — brought in a different dynamic of how leaders acted in this region. Women were finally paid attention to by the mostly male business leadership, for example.

One more note: There is still one possible way that a woman could claim a top county seat in the November elections.

Patricia Lightner is facing off against incumbent Ed Eilert for the Johnson County commission chair. But Eilert is heavily favored, as he should be, because he won the August primary and will get almost all the votes of the third place finisher in the primary, Ed Peterson.

So if Eilert wins, five men once again will hold the top rungs of power in local counties.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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