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Archive for Sunday, February 24, 2002

A better way

February 24, 2002

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Kansas might be able to learn something from the nonpartisan redistricting process followed by Iowa lawmakers.

While watching the continuing battle in the Kansas Legislature over redrawing districts for the Kansas House and Senate as well as the U.S. House, you just have to ask yourself if there isn't a better way to conduct this process.

The Kansas Senate passed a bill redrawing its districts before many members even had an opportunity to see a map. Senate Republicans thought they had the votes for a map that had been drawn by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, but when the map came to the floor, it was amended into an entirely different map and then passed. Lawrence Sen. Sandy Praeger, who called for the governor to veto the map, is not the only senator looking for a way to get another crack at the process.

In the House, Republicans went to extreme lengths to protect the districts of incumbent legislators who, in all likelihood, won't even hold those seats ten years from now. In two instances, they redrew districts to cover the homes of two Democrats, who then would be forced to run against each other. In two others, they put one Democrat and one Republican in the same new district. Nowhere will two Republicans be forced to face off.

Republicans and Democrats also are bickering over the map to redraw the state's four U.S. House districts. Partisan politics has the map-drawers looking at splitting Lawrence between two districts purely to satisfy political interests.

As all this is going on, political divisions are deepened and personal vendettas created. Some of those, no doubt, will carry through to negotiations on vital state issues, including how to deal with the state's current budget crunch.

As we said, there must be a better way. And other states may have found it. Iowa, for instance, resolved its state and federal redistricting maps almost a year ago, leaving the General Assembly free to consider other issues in its current session. How did they do it?

After a particularly disappointing redistricting process following the 1970 census, Iowa lawmakers passed legislation giving their Legislative Service Bureau the job of drawing the maps for Congress and the Legislature. A representative of that bureau (the equivalent of Kansas' Legislative Research Department) explained Friday that maps are based on straight headcount. The bureau doesn't consider demographics, the hometowns of incumbents or party registration in the districts.

Once the map is finished, the state's Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission makes it public and holds public hearings. The commission has five members, four appointed by the leadership of the General Assembly and one, who then serves as chair, elected by the other four members.

The map goes to the General Assembly, which scrutinizes it on various points, including party registration. If the House or Senate doesn't like the map, they can send it back to the Legislative Services, but they cannot amend it and they cannot reject it on a purely political basis. Legislative Service then will construct a different map that goes through the same process. If a third map is required, legislators then have the power to make amendments, but that hasn't happened in the three decades Iowa has used this process.

In 2001, the Iowa official said, the first map was presented on April 12; the Senate voted it down on May 2. A second map was presented on June 1 and approved at a special session of both houses on June 19. Two months and it's done.

It's a far cry from the needless political squabbling that has accompanied the redistricting process in Kansas. By taking much of the politics out of redistricting, Iowa draws maps that reflect the best interests of communities and not politicians. It also takes redistricting out of the legislative arena where it wastes precious time and creates bad feelings.

Is there a better way to do redistricting? Maybe Kansas could learn something from Iowa.

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