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Populist Joan Finney Dies at 76

July 29, 2001

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ Joan Finney, whose populist beliefs and gift for connecting with voters helped her become the first woman governor of Kansas, died Saturday. She was 76.

Finney’s daughter, Mary Holladay, said the former governor died at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Topeka, where she was taken Friday because of complications from liver cancer.

Finney, a Democrat, served a single term as the state’s chief executive in 1991-95 after 16 years as state treasurer. She did not seek re-election in 1994 and lost a U.S. Senate primary two years later.

Finney was best known for making personal connections with the people she met during her campaigns and government duties.

``She really enjoyed being a public servant,″ Gov. Bill Graves said. ``You could just see how she lit up when she was around people.″

Finney fought to let voters put proposed laws and constitutional amendments on the ballot without going through the Legislature, but lawmakers rejected her proposals to amend the state Constitution to allow initiatives and referendums.

Finney was born Feb. 12, 1925, in Topeka, the youngest of three girls.

In 1972, after serving as the Shawnee County election commissioner, she ran for Congress as a Republican and lost in the primary. Two years later, she won the state treasurer’s race as a Democrat.

When she began her run for governor in 1990, many reporters and political activists didn’t see her low-budget campaign as a serious threat to the leading contender for the Democratic nomination, former Gov. John Carlin. Finney said she won by keeping in touch with voters.

``I knew I would be the next governor, just by second sense,″ Finney told The Associated Press last year. ``Legislators talk to each other and forget the people. The press, they talk to legislators.″

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