With all the important business the Kansas Legislature has put off until after its spring recess, it’s unfortunate that lawmakers will have to use valuable time to continue their contentious negotiations over redrawing legislative and congressional district maps.
Redistricting is always a political process, but this year, the politics has turned into silliness. Legislators are submitting maps that split key communities of interest for no good reason except perhaps to make a political point. One map splits Topeka in two; another removes part of Wyandotte County from the district that covers the rest of the Kansas City metropolitan area and puts it into the mostly rural 1st District. One of the silliest maps, called Deep Purple, would keep Douglas County in two pieces, put Lawrence in the 1st District, and use the eastern third of the county as a narrow bridge to link large chunks of northeast and southeast Kansas into the 2nd District.
It’s a little surprising, with Republicans holding such commanding majorities in both houses, that it is taking so long to agree on a map. Districts must be redrawn to reflect population declines in the western part of the state, but it’s a political given that the congressional districts lines will be drawn in a way that protects Republican incumbents in the U.S. House. There are many reasonable ways to accomplish that goal and still create clean, contiguous districts that maintain key communities of interest. One such plan already was approved by the Kansas Senate but has failed to gain favor in the House.
Drawing a new map for Kansas Senate districts also is causing unusual angst because of the split between moderate and conservative Republicans in the state. As always, the majority party is trying to draw districts in a way that protects its incumbents. However, some Republicans in both the House and Senate don’t want all those incumbents back in office; they would prefer to see different Republicans who represent a more conservative view. With redistricting maps still pending for both the House and Senate, it’s impossible for would-be candidates — incumbents or challengers — to even know for sure in which district they will be living when the final maps are drawn.
It’s a bad situation that is firing up partisan political passions at exactly the time when legislators need to be looking for common ground on key state issues like KPERS, school finance and, oh yes, the budget.
Accepting reasonable compromises to finalize the three redistricting maps would be a good first step.