The highly political redistricting process followed by Kansas has to go.
It simply is unconscionable that state legislators have allowed delays and political infighting to make congressional redistricting one of the last major issues to be decided in the 2002 session.
The decision, in fact, is so late that the Kansas secretary of state fears it may affect the state's primary election calendar. Even if a plan is approved this weekend, redistricting is not complete until the map is approved by the courts. If the courts don't accept the plan or a legal challenge is launched, the process easily could make it impossible to meet the state's primary filing deadlines.
There was no reason for this process to drag on so long, and Kansans should demand action to prevent a repeat of this fiasco following the 2010 U.S. Census.
The numbers on which redistricting is based have been known since the 2000 census was released. Other states had new districts drawn and approved more than a year ago. In Kansas, legislators are dragging their feet and jockeying for political position in a way that has affected far-more-important issues in this contentious legislative session.
Democrats are fighting for one map, Republicans are bickering among themselves. This year's process provides ample evidence why the state should do its best to reduce the political aspects of redistricting.
New maps have been approved and accepted by the courts for Kansas House and Kansas Senate seats, but the process of drawing those maps carved deep political chasms between Democrats and Republicans and between moderate and conservative Republicans. Individual districts were manipulated to benefit certain incumbents and perhaps punish others either because they were Democrats or because they were on the wrong side of the moderate-conservative split of the Republican Party.
Any number of maps to redraw the state's four U.S. House districts were presented. Although there may be some pretense of drawing lines to preserve "communities of interest," almost every map that was forwarded came with a specific political agenda. Because Republicans have a large majority in the Kansas Legislature, the final congressional map is sure to protect Republican incumbents. Rep. Dennis Moore, the state's only Democratic congressman, is likely to be the loser.
The political battle lines that affect redistricting carry over to other issues being considered by the Legislature. At the beginning of the session, leaders said they planned to complete redistricting maps by early March. That would have allowed a certain amount of time for legislators to put the rancors of redistricting behind them and address other matters, like the budget.
Instead, the congressional redistricting battle has continued to hang over the Legislature into its closing days. It almost seems that leaders pushed redistricting to the back burner in an effort to keep it from becoming a political football in the budget debate. Perhaps their plan was to make congressional redistricting the last action of the session so people who didn't like the plan would have several months to cool off before they got back together.
It's hard to understand their thinking and even harder to accept the way redistricting has been conducted. Any congressional map that is approved probably will be less harmful to the state than the politically charged process that produced it.
The state has almost 10 years to change its redistricting process before maps must be redrawn again, but there's no reason to wait. Revisions that will prevent a repeat of this year's deplorable process should be at the top of the legislative agenda when the group reconvenes next January.