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Archive for Friday, March 8, 2002

Redistricting distraction

March 8, 2002

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While state legislators are figuring out ways to try to protect incumbent officeholders, the rest of the state is waiting for answers on far more important issues.

Evidence just continues to mount that Kansas needs to find a better way of drawing new districts for Congress and the statehouse.

Earlier this week, Gov. Bill Graves put the Kansas Legislature into a frenzy by vetoing the redistricting map for the Kansas Senate. The map adopted by the Legislature was the result of a massive amendment on the Senate floor to the map that was considered and adopted by the Senate Reapportionment Committee. Voting for the map was a odd coalition of Senate Democrats and conservative Republicans who felt disenfranchised by the committee's process.

The political infighting has drawn many battle lines and created hard feelings that have made it impossible to make any significant progress on key state budget issues. Those issues basically have been put on hold until a redistricting map can be approved, and many observers are predicting a legislative session that could be the longest in state history, perhaps extending into June.

The map to redraw Kansas House districts is making progress toward the governor's desk where approval seems likely, but House Speaker Kent Glasscock, R-Manhattan, has ordered committee members to try again to fashion a new map of congressional districts.

A map that would move all of Lawrence into the 2nd Congressional District was approved by Senate committee but has been on hold for two weeks because leadership isn't ready to bring it to the full Senate. The reason offered by Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, is particularly revealing.

"It's a very hard map to draw because what you find when you talk to the individual congressmen is that you have mutually exclusive desires," Kerr said. "You cannot draw a map that pleases all of the sitting congressmen."

Should that be the guiding principle for redrawing congressional districts? To please all of the sitting congressmen? What an incredibly narrow view of the principle of "one man, one vote." Why even bother with having a redistricting process? If the only goal of redistricting is to protect incumbents, why not just let the state's four congressmen sit down and draw the maps themselves?

There's no denying that redistricting is a highly political process in Kansas and most other states. And it's simply reality that the political parties in power want to maximize the number of their party's members in certain districts. To the victor go the spoils. But to focus redistricting efforts so narrowly on protecting the electability of individual incumbents is an extreme disservice to American voters.

Efforts in Kansas to protect incumbents may not be unique, but they are nonetheless deplorable. And the fact that this political gamesmanship is disrupting the far more important budget challenges facing this state is unconscionable.

Legislative leaders have been stalling budget considerations until they could receive updated revenue predictions from the Consensus Estimating Group. Those estimates are due out today. There are no more excuses for delay. State legislators should either settle this redistricting debate or set it aside and get on to the issues that will have a far greater impact on the residents of Kansas.

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