Topeka — It’s not personal. It’s business.
That was Gov. Sam Brownback’s message on Friday as he explained why he wants to make Leavenworth County one state Senate district, a move that would place his general election opponent outside the current district boundaries.
“I think it is important that Leavenworth have a state senator. They need to have that organizing piece,” Brownback said.
He said there are numerous federal assets in Leavenworth County that will be susceptible to possible federal budget cuts. Those include a federal penitentiary, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and other facilities. Having one state senator from Leavenworth County will help keep political focus on protecting those assets, he said.
But Democrats said it looked like Brownback, a Republican, was involved in political payback against state Sens. Tom Holland and Kelly Kultala, both Democrats. Brownback denied that was the case.
Holland ran against Brownback for governor in November. Kultala was Holland’s lieutenant governor running mate.
Holland, of Baldwin City, and Kultala, of Kansas City, Kan., represent different portions of Leavenworth County.
If the Senate district boundaries were redrawn to put the entire district within Leavenworth County, Holland and Kultala would most likely have to run against incumbents in other districts because neither of them lives in Leavenworth County. Holland would probably face state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, and Kultala, state Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, Kan.
Earlier this week, Brownback’s chief of staff, David Kensinger, testified to the Senate Reapportionment Committee. He didn’t mention the governor’s concern with protecting federal assets, but focused on Leavenworth County’s population, saying it deserved to be self-contained in one Senate district or the predominant county of one.
Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley of Topeka said having the governor’s chief of staff testify on what the governor wanted in a legislative redistricting map was unprecedented.
Hensley said Holland and Kultala have done an excellent job representing Leavenworth County.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the fact that Brownback’s plan affects Holland and Kultala “makes the governor look a little petty.” Davis said Brownback has shown he wants to exert his influence over the Legislature and judiciary.
Republican leaders downplayed Brownback’s influence in the Senate redistricting process.
Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, said he doubted the Senate would collapse two districts.
Senate Vice President John Vratil, R-Leawood, said Brownback had earlier indicated he would not be involved in legislative redistricting and now has changed his mind.
Vratil said the governor is entitled to his opinion, but added, “I would just hope he would be consistent.”