Once a year, either in late December or early January, ahead of the upcoming legislative session, I would put on my reporter’s cap and call the Black elected officials from Wichita – and David Haley from Kansas City – and ask them “what are you working on for the session.”

Ks Rep. Gail Finney, who represented the 84th District in inner city Wichita, never failed to surprise me. Not only would she have a long list of issues she was prepared to fight for, but she always had something on her list that I’d have to ask, “what’s that.”

Some of those things were still on her list, when she died, surprisingly to many of us, on Aug. 20 at age 63.

Wichita has a load of dynamic women leaders – most of them Leos – and Gail was one of them. So, I wasn’t surprised by her leadership or her organizational skills. I wasn’t surprised by her love of family and her love for her community – because that’s what “we” Leos do. However, in a sea of stars, Gail’s light had an extra sparkle.

Her Personal Story

As her obituary read,, “Gail was always smart and driven.”

Gail loved spending time with her Finney and Lott families, gardening and cooking. An only child, whose mother passed 15 years ago, Gail faithfully took the time to check in on her Aunts and Uncles.

A young bride, Gail immensely loved her best friend and husband, Jerrold, and doted on her sons and grandchildren.

She showed up for baby showers, birthday parties, graduation, community meetings, and marches, and she showed up for her constituents.

Gail freely shared her wisdom and support. If you had an idea or a dream, Gail was that cheerleader who had a solid business plan to help you.

She’d had numerous entrepreneurial successes. In the early 90s, she started and built the “Heart of the City” magazine, a monthly publication serving Wichita’s African American community. As owner of The Community Voice, that’s something we connected around our publications. Many times, I’d call on her for advice, which she freely gave.

She moved to Dallas where she generated even more success as the founder and operator of the Dallas Black Expo – a three-day event featuring vendors, activities and performing artists.

Gail the Legislator

She was forced to return to Wichita in 1997 when she began having health issues. She learned she had Lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation and pain in any part of your body. As much as she accomplished, few people knew she had ongoing health problems for years. One of the reasons she ran for the Kansas legislature in 2009 was to address problems she saw, and personally experienced, with obtaining and affording health care.

Obama Care was approved in 2010, making more affordable health care available to many. But Gail wasn’t satisfied by the Kansas legislature’s failure to expand Medicaid to help those who didn’t make enough money to qualify for coverage under the Affordable Care Act Year after year, Gail made it her mission to never stop fighting for its passage.

House Democratic Leader Tom Sawyer, said he remembers when Gail first arrived at the Capitol, one of the first bills she wanted to go to work on was the legalization of medical marijuana bill, something that wasn’t very popular back then. But that didn’t stop Finney.   That’s another one of Finney’s unfinished items.

I remember one year when I called Gail and asked her what items she was going to be working on, she told me Civil Asset Forfeiture. It was one of those times I had no idea what she was talking about.

Civil Asset Forfeiture wasn’t a popular issue that would attract a lot of attention, but that didn’t matter to Gail. he didn’t take up an issue for tweets or rewards, but for progress

Civil Asset forfeiture laws allow the police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners don’t need to be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.

It’s difficult for some people to believe law enforcement organizations can just take your personal property, even if they haven’t proven you guilty of anything.

For Gail, it was the ultimate issue of fairness, a battle she continued to fight for and during the past few sessions, it’s an issue that’s finally starting to draw some attention.

Even though Gail was stepping down and had announced her plans to retire from the Kansas House at the end of the year, she was still committed to working on the issues.

She was going to help Kansas Rep. KC Ohaebosim and members of the Kansas Black Legislative Caucus work for the passage of a bill to make Juneteenth a holiday in Kansas.

She’d passed on a list of issues for Ford Carr, who is set to take over her seat as the 84th District’s representative, to work on. Many of those issues involved making life better for individuals whose life hadn’t gone as expected: Foster children, individuals in the criminal justice system and working families trying to keep their heads above water.

Those are the kind of people who needed a warrior like Gail Finney, small but mighty.

“Gail proved to be the best kind of warrior, too. Not a weekend warrior, but the daily kind who never worried about the size of the opponent, only the depth of her constituents’ needs. She took on the biggest, toughest opponents with the same focused tenacity that she brought to any task,” wrote columnist Mark McCormick.

The running theme during her funeral, started by Gov. Laura Kelly during her comments, was about Gail’s fighting against the utility companies about those, “big ass poles” that started popping up in northeast Wichita without any notification of the community they impacted.

While the poles haven’t been replaced – that’s still an issue under consideration – she did give the Evergy to donate in large amounts, to non-profits serving the community. In addition, last year she was able to get a bill passed that will make sure what happened in Northeast Wichita will never happen in another community.

On April 8, 2021, Ks Gov. Laura Kelly signed into law HB 2321 sponsored by Ks Rep. Gail Finney which requires electric public utilities to notify cities before the construction of urban electric transmission lines.

Gail took on the energy company and won. 

Keeping Her Legacy Alive

“ When Gail set out to do something she did it. Our community is better off because of the selfless work of Gail Finney,” said Wichita Mayor Brandon Whipple during his comments at her funeral. “You always knew where Gail stood. Her purpose was clear. She was there to do things for her community.”

Mayor Whipple joined a group of speakers who called for the community not to let Gail’s work die, just because she did.

“We must continue to move our community forward,” said Danielle Johnson, another speaker at Gail’s funeral. “We would be remiss if we did we would be remiss if we …. and not change our actions.

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Bonita Gooch

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...