A few months ago, mostly just gardeners and Minutemen knew the woman who’s been at the center of Kansas City’s biggest controversy.

The Real Mrs. Semler 

A few months ago, mostly just gardeners and Minutemen knew the woman who’s been at the center of Kansas City’s biggest controversy.

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Joan Taylor, the president of the Kansas City Rose Society, says Semler has stepped up for projects far outside her own neighborhood. Last spring, the rose garden at Loose Park suffered significant damage from a late frost. "It looked terrible, and Fran called me and said she was so saddened by this and was there anything that Clay County group could do to help us out," Taylor says.

Semler picked up a bundle of donation envelopes, took them back to her members in the Clay County Rose Society and returned with a chunk of change to help the recovery effort. Then she volunteered to help strip the plants of the dead foliage.

"I was delighted when I heard she was on the parks board because she understands what's happening with parks. She has that background," Taylor says. "I honestly have not talked to anyone in the horticulture world that is anything but extremely pleased that she's there."

John Palmisano, president of the Northland Garden Club, says he sat on a garden-tour committee with Semler and recently saw her at a wake. "I said we supported her in every way and to keep her head up," he tells The Pitch.

Her garden backers know that Semler has strong views on immigration, but Taylor says she keeps her political rhetoric and love of roses separate.

"When she's a volunteer in the garden, she's not out there espousing anything but, 'Isn't this a beautiful place?'" she says.

But there is another side of Semler.

She inherited more than her parents' gardening skills. She'd also picked up their interest in politics.

She volunteered for George W. Bush's first presidential campaign in 2000, though she says he's been a disappointment; the president didn't earn her help during the 2004 race. More recently, she has volunteered for U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, who made illegal immigration one of his top issues during the 2006 campaign.

Semler says she threw her support behind Mark Funkhouser because she had read his reports as auditor and thought he would instill some fiscal sense into a city addicted to costly tax breaks.

On the political spectrum, she describes herself as an independent.

"I'm mostly right down the middle," she tells The Pitch. "I think we should take care of people, but more than take care of them, I think we should help them take care of themselves."

Her views on immigration policy, though, are strictly conservative.

Her interest in the issue goes back two decades. Semler says she reads the newspaper cover to cover every day and carefully studies issues that catch her civic attention. In 1986, the federal government overhauled immigration laws and, she says, "proceeded to not do a thing" to enforce them.

"First of all, I was concerned about jobs being taken from citizens here and the downward spiral in wages," she says. "And the fact that it was just illegal. When you see people breaking the law, when you see corruption around the country, you think, What's going on?"

She says her concern extends to migrant laborers, too, who may be mistreated and financially exploited.

But Semler's husband is a contractor — and anti-illegal-immigration groups say that's one of the industries in which undocumented workers are most undermining American employment and wages.

"I suppose it has impacted him," Semler says of immigration's effect on her husband's business. "Though, that was not my first thought. My first thought was, people needed a leg up. With construction jobs, you used to be able to live on it. Now you can't."

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