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‘She was a pioneer.’ Former Kansas congresswoman Jan Meyers passes away

Congressional Pictorial Directory

Former Kansas Rep. Jan Meyers passed away Friday morning at the age of 90.

Meyers, a Johnson County Republican, represented Kansas’ 3rd congressional district for 12 years, from 1985 to 1997, including a two-year stint as chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee.

She was the first Republican woman to chair in more than 40 years when she took over the committee.

“I sincerely hope that women continue to run and continue to get elected, and I think that will ultimately result in more women being elected to leadership positions,” Meyers said at the time.

The Overland Park Republican adopted a constituent-focused approach as the representative for Johnson, Wyandotte and Miami Counties.

“Listen to your conscience and your constituents—both. Most of the time they’ll agree. If your conscience is different than your constituents, then you’ll have a hard time,” she said, according to her U.S. House biography.

Meyers’ passing was announced on Twitter Friday night by her one of former colleagues. She had been living in a nursing home.

“Congresswoman Jan Meyers was a trusted colleague, but most importantly a friend. I always looked up to Jan and depended on her advice and counsel during my time serving alongside her in Congress,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, who served with Meyers in the U.S. House.

“As the first Republican woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas, she set a great example for future generations. She was kind, caring, honest and extremely well respected in not only the 3rd district, but the entire state.”

Meyers was born July 20, 1928, in Superior, Nebraska, where her father was a newspaper publisher.

The congresswoman married Dutch Meyers in April 1953 and the couple had two children, Valerie Meyers and Philip Meyers. She has one granddaughter, Maria Meyers.

Meyers was elected to the U.S. House in 1984 after serving five years on the Overland Park City Council and 12 years in the Kansas Senate.

She made her first entry into Kansas Republican politics in 1966 as chairwoman for her predecessor Republican Rep. Larry Winn’s congressional campaign and two years later worked on Sen. Robert Dole’s first Senate campaign.

Meyers was president of the Overland Park City Council from 1970 to 1972 and was the first chairwoman of the Mid-America Regional Council. In 1972, she was the first woman elected president of the League of Kansas Municipalities.

She mounted an unsuccessful U.S. Senate campaign in 1978 before being elected to the U.S. House upon Winn’s retirement six years later.

Meyers distinguished herself from other Republicans in her support for abortion rights and gun control measures, but she was also a staunch fiscal conservative and supporter of anti-drug efforts.

“I mean, she was a pioneer,” said Mike Murray, her former chief of staff and campaign manager. “She was way ahead of today’s movement for women in politics. She was on the vanguard of that. “

While serving in the Congress, Meyers received numerous awards, including seven consecutive Golden Bulldog Awards from the Watchdogs of the Treasury for her votes to cut the federal deficit.

She also was named a Guardian of Small Business by the National Federation of Independent Business and a Taxpayers’ Friend by the National Taxpayers Union for her votes to cut spending and opposing tax increases.

“She was extremely thoughtful about the issues,” Murray said. “She was tough. You never tried to pull the wool over her eyes on anything. She was a moderate Republican. She was conservative on foreign policy and moderate on social issues.”

Murray noted Meyers’ background in local government. She had served on the board that purchased the land for Johnson Community College, he said.

Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said he first met Meyers in 1978 when she was campaigning door to door for her Senate bid. He praised her as a role model and trailblazer for women.

“To me, Jan was more than a public servant — she was also a friend. Jan never forgot who she worked for and always had time for the folks back home. The manner in which she met difficult circumstances with a smile gave me comfort, and I valued her kindness and gentle spirit. Our nation needs more public servants like Jan — people who put service above self,” Moran said.

Meyers signed the Republican Contract with America in 1994 and was a leader in the effort to reform the nation’s welfare system under House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

She made headlines in 2014 when she rescinded a reported endorsement of Democrat Paul Davis in the race for Kansas governor and threw her vocal support to incumbent Republican Gov. Sam Brownback.

Meyers was an honors graduate in communications from the University of Nebraska in 1951 and earned an associate degree in fine arts from William Woods College in Fulton, Missouri, four years later 1948.

In 1986, she received an honorary doctor of letters degree from William Woods College and an honorary doctor of laws degree from Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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