Here we go again. The 2010 Census has not yet begun, but Kansas legislators already have held their first meeting to discuss the redistricting process that will be based on those census figures.
It’s safe to say that Thursday’s meeting of the Redistricting Advisory Group will be the first of dozens of meetings that will precede redistricting decisions that will go into effect for the 2012 election.
Although Kansas is expected to retain its four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, population shifts will require legislators to redraw district lines to roughly equalize the number of Kansans living in each district. The redistricting process also will affect state legislative districts, which will have to be realigned to reflect population shifts.
Among the items on Thursday’s agenda was a review of redistricting guidelines that require districts to recognize “communities of interest,” as defined by social, cultural, racial and economic factors. Lawrence residents may remember that term being bandied about during the last redistricting process, which determined that Lawrence itself didn’t constitute a “community of interest” and could, therefore, be split between two U.S. House districts. Another interpretation might be that the decision was a thinly veiled effort to neutralize the impact of a county that often votes Democratic by splitting its voters between two congressional districts.
House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, chaired Thursday’s meeting and noted that the concept of communities of interest “is such a broad term.” Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, allowed as how it might be good for the Legislature to keep that term as broad as possible. That, of course, makes it easier for the heavily Republican Legislature to use or ignore any definition of communities of interest to justify whatever district lines it decides to draw.
It’s disappointing that the Kansas Legislature is approaching another redistricting process without having seriously considered any revisions to make that process less partisan. Instead, the state once again will draw district lines based on protecting incumbents and supporting the majority party rather than on providing geographically sensible districts without regard to party registration or voting patterns.
Although it’s unlikely, the best Kansans can hope for is that the 2012 redistricting process can be accomplished without the contentious battles that started with redistricting and spread to many other legislative issues a decade ago. As other states have proven, there are far better, more impartial, systems for redrawing legislative and congressional districts, but not in Kansas, at least this time around.