The process of redrawing congressional and legislative districts in Kansas has officially begun and promises to be as politically charged as ever.
The House and Senate redistricting committees that will redraw the districts based on 2010 U.S. Census numbers held their first meetings on Wednesday. In the House, Speaker Mike O’Neal took the unusual step of naming himself as chairman of his chamber’s 17-member committee. He said he claimed the post for himself because of his interest and experience in the redistricting process. He was involved in redrawing the lines in 1992 and chaired the House redistricting committee in 2002.
“Given that I was going to have a substantial interest in it and probably would be working on it anyway, I just decided that we’d run it out of our office,” he said.
The House’s top Democrat, Minority Leader Paul Davis of Lawrence, also claimed a seat on the committee, which has 17 Republicans and six Democrats, mirroring the partisan split in the House, which has 92 Republicans and 33 Democrats.
It’s often said that redistricting is the most political activity undertaken by legislators. It also can be a highly contentious process that stirs political passions that spill over to other legislative activities. Ten years ago, unrelated pieces of legislation were dragged into the bitter redistricting battle. Having the top Republican and Democratic House leaders serving on the redistricting committee seems to raise the odds of that happening again, but we hope cooler heads will prevail.
Actually, the battles may be somewhat subdued by the fact that Republicans hold such large majorities in both the House and Senate. Davis already has noted that Democrats really have no expectation that they will “get their way” on most redistricting matters.
Perhaps the most important redistricting issue for Lawrence residents will be the new boundaries for the 2nd and 3rd congressional districts. Lawrence is now split almost equally between the two districts, but higher population in the Kansas metropolitan area will make it necessary to trim the 3rd district and perhaps put more or all of Douglas County into the 2nd.
After the last redistricting process, several legislators proposed a bill to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission that would redraw district lines primarily based on population and “communities of interest” rather than political advantage. Unfortunately, the measure got little support from legislators who weren’t inclined to give up that piece of their political power.
So the process begins again. The best Kansans can hope for is that any political battles over redistricting don’t stymie progress on other legislation of even greater importance to the state.