When it was reported last week that incoming Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle wanted to reopen the issue of legislative redistricting, many Kansans may have hoped she wanted to look at a new system, perhaps a nonpartisan redistricting commission, that would lessen the possibility that the state would see a repeat of this year’s contentious process.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Instead, Wagle is interested in reconsidering the results of that process, which ended up with Kansas legislative and congressional districts being redrawn by a panel of federal judges after the governor and Legislature were unable to complete that task. Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce also raised the possibility of adjusting congressional districts.
Wagle told the Associated Press that she wanted to consult attorneys to determine what power the Legislature has to override the judges’ redistricting decisions.
“Why not try?” she said. “Nothing should be out of the realm of fixing.”
One reason not to try is the possibility that a renewed redistricting debate could be a big distraction from other important business facing the Legislature in the upcoming session, including the issue of how to deal with a huge revenue shortfall that’s expected to result from income tax reductions passed during the last session. The presence of conservative Republican majorities in both the House and Senate may mean there would be less dissension in a redistricting debate next year, but there are no guarantees.
The other question is what problem the Republicans would be trying to “fix.” As noted above, conservative Republicans now hold a majority of the state’s legislative seats, and redrawing districts would have the potential to upset that balance and perhaps damage the re-election chances of some new incumbents. If the Legislature goes too far in trying to gerrymander districts now held by Democrats, it also risks having the plan end up in court again, which would be both disruptive and costly for the state. The same would be true of trying to adjust congressional districts.
It’s unfortunate that legislators were unable to reach a redistricting agreement earlier this year, but the state has moved forward, accepted the new lines and elected its representatives. Why not just leave well enough alone? Whatever political agenda might be served by reopening this issue isn’t worth the potential upheaval and controversy it could cause.