"Sheila Frahm," in Women in Congress, 1917-2006. Prepared under the direction of the Committee on House Administration by the Office of History & Preservation, U.S. House of Representatives. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2006.
An accomplished Kansas legislator, Sheila Frahm was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the vacancy created when Majority Leader Robert Dole resigned his seat to run for the presidency in 1996. Frahm, who had worked her way up from local politics to the Kansas lieutenant governorship, served just five months after failing to win renomination to fill the remaining two years of the unexpired term.
She was born Sheila Sloan in Colby, Kansas, on March 22, 1945. She received a B.S. degree from Fort Hays State University in 1967 and also attended the University of Texas at Austin. Sheila Sloan married Kenneth Frahm, and the couple had three daughters. Sheila Frahm embarked on a long career in public service with an emphasis on education. She chaired the Colby (Kansas) public schools board of education and the northwest Kansas educational service center board of education. In 1985, Frahm was appointed to the Kansas board of education. Re–elected in 1986, she became vice chair in 1987. She was elected to the Kansas state senate in 1988, serving from 1989 to 1994, and becoming the first woman to achieve the rank of Kansas senate majority leader. Frahm was elected the first woman lieutenant governor of Kansas in 1994 and was appointed the Kansas secretary of administration in 1995.1
On May 24, 1996, Kansas Governor Bill Graves appointed Frahm to the U.S. Senate as a Republican to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Robert Dole, who had secured the GOP nomination for President during the spring primaries. Graves praised Frahm’s “years of community and legislative experience.” Frahm pledged “my heart and soul to the people of my beloved Kansas.”2 Senator Frahm was sworn in on June 1, 1996, and was assigned to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. The appointment made Kansas the second state to have two women serving simultaneously as U.S. Senators, as Frahm joined longtime Senator Nancy Kassebaum.
Frahm worked on a variety of legislation during her brief tenure, helping pass bills on workplace, health care, and immigration reforms. During her inaugural speech in the Senate, Frahm voiced her support for election finance reform but rejected a proposal to create a program to finance campaigns with federal funds. “Bad reform is not better than no reform,” Frahm said on the Senate Floor. “I oppose federal financing of our elections, which would in effect turn our politicians into a new class of welfare dependents. I came here to reform welfare, not to expand it. I question why the Congress should seek to pass a bill that is almost certainly unconstitutional in many of its key reforms, and puts an unreasonable mandate of high costs on private business.”3 Shortly before the end of her term, Frahm managed to steer through the Senate a bill to designate national historic site status to Nicodemus, Kansas. Nicodemus, which was located in Frahm’s former Kansas Senate district, was a settlement founded by African Americans in the 1870s as they moved west in pursuit of better livelihoods. By adding her bill to a larger omnibus parks bill, Frahm ensured historic status for the site, a move which historic preservationists believed would help them raise enough money to save it.4 Frahm also embraced a pro–choice position on the abortion issue, which was a polarizing one within the Kansas Republican Party.
In the August 6 GOP primary, Frahm faced freshman Representative Sam Brownback, an anti–abortion conservative with a large network of pro–life supporters. Though she received the backing of Governor Graves and Senator Kassebaum, Frahm lost to Brownback by a wide margin.5 Her term of service ended in the Senate on November 5, 1996. Frahm returned to Colby, Kansas, where she and her husband managed corn and wheat production in several nearby counties. In 2002, Frahm served as the executive director for the Kansas Association of Community College Trustees, which represented all 19 state community colleges.
1Congressional Record, Senate 104th Cong., 2nd sess. (30 October 1996): 12275.
2Dirk Johnson, “Moderate Chosen to Fill Dole’s Seat,” 25 May 1996, New York Times: A9.
3Congressional Record, Senate, 104th Cong., 2nd sess. (28 June 1996): 7291.
4Congressional Record, Senate, 104th Cong., 2nd sess. (21 October 1996): 12464.
5“A Senate Primary Mirrors G.O.P. Split,” 1 August 1996, New York Times: A16; “Abortion Foes Win Senate Primaries in 3 States,” 7 August 1996, New York Times: A13.