Politics & Government

Trailblazing Missouri lawmaker now in a fight she can't win

Karen McCarthy spots me in the hotel lobby. A big smile crosses her face. "Ohhh, wow," she says. "This is wonderful. Hi." But does she really know me?

I spent 16 years covering her as a state lawmaker in Jefferson City and as a member of Congress in Washington. Surely her sister and a friend who have accompanied her this evening told her a reporter is coming.

"It's been too long," McCarthy says. "Gosh. This is my sister, Lauren."

There's a spark, a twinkle in her eyes. Her hair is neatly combed. She wears a pink sweater over a white T-shirt. She seems smaller, fragile, more worn than the last time I saw her, a couple of years ago.

She walks tentatively toward a meeting room. Her gait is a bit unsteady.

We're retracing a nearly 30-year career in elected office that saw McCarthy become an early trailblazer for women in a state Capitol dominated by men. A woman who became president of the National Conference of State Legislatures. A Democrat who easily defeated an 11-candidate field to cruise into Congress.

Now she faces an advanced form of Alzheimer's disease. It has forced her from her home near Westport and into a Johnson County assisted-living center. Friends say that even at 62, it has taken a dramatic toll.

Read the complete story at kansascity.com