Kansas Rep. Gail Finney remembered as champion for Wichita, warrior for justice

By: - August 20, 2022 3:02 pm
Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, calls for improved accounting of maternal deaths during a news conference on Jan. 13, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Democrats announced Finney's death on Saturday. She was 63. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

Rep. Gail Finney, a Wichita Democrat, calls for improved accounting of maternal deaths during a news conference on Jan. 13, 2021, at the Statehouse in Topeka. Democrats announced Finney’s death on Saturday. She was 63. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Rep. Gail Finney’s colleagues mourned her death Saturday and remembered the Wichita Democrat as a fierce advocate for child welfare, a warrior for justice, a champion for her community, and a shining example of a public servant.

Finney’s death was announced by fellow Democrats on social media. She was 63.

“Kansas lost a warrior today,” said Gov. Laura Kelly. “No one fought harder for her constituents, for her community, for justice and equity.”

House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer described Finney as “a real fighter,” noting that she continued to serve in the Legislature this past session while recovering from a kidney transplant. Sawyer, who is also a Wichita Democrat, said Finney’s “love for Wichita knew no bounds.”

“Finney was a shining example of a public servant,” Sawyer said. “Her ongoing work to ensure her community’s proper representation in Topeka reflected an admirable commitment to her neighbors and community.”

Finney had served in the House since 2009 and did not file for reelection this year. She was a member of committees that deal with criminal justice reform, financial institutions, rural development, and insurance and pensions.

Finney fought for foster care reforms, decriminalizing marijuana, and improved accounting for maternal deaths.

“My heart is breaking,” said Rep. Susan Concannon, a Beloit Republican who serves as chairwoman of the Children and Seniors Committee. “Rep. Finney was a fierce advocate for child welfare issues and a foster parent herself.”

Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat, said Finney was “whip-smart, funny and tough,” and “a shining example of constituent advocacy.”

Finney took on Evergy after the utility giant replaced wooden poles directly in front of her constituents’ homes with massive metal ones, some five feet wide and 105 feet tall. Finney’s public scrutiny of the “big ass poles,” as she called them, led Evergy to renegotiate with property owners and make other investments in Finney’s district.

Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, said Finney championed her community and stood up for those who were overlooked in the legislative process.

“She was a wonderful colleague to all, a cherished friend to many, and an incomparable advocate for our state,” Sykes said.

Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Leavenworth Democrat who served with Finney in the House for four years, said Finney “understood what it meant to persevere through adversity.”

“I enjoyed working with her to make the world a more just place and will miss her,” Pittman said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.