Perhaps the main reason the Kansas Legislature couldn’t — or, at least, didn’t — complete its redistricting duties this year was the desire of lawmakers to protect certain incumbent legislators and members of Congress from meaningful competition in the August primary and the November election.
Ironically, legislators’ prolonged inaction on redistricting has indirectly helped accomplish exactly that goal.
State law mandated that if redistricting wasn’t completed by May 10, the filing deadline for candidates for the Legislature, Congress and the Kansas State Board of Education would be pushed back to June 11. That now is less than a week away and prospective candidates for all of those offices still don’t know for sure in what district they will live when the election occurs.
That isn’t nearly as big an obstacle for incumbent candidates as it would be for challengers. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday that about three-fourths of incumbent Kansas legislators have filed for re-election. That includes 27 incumbents in the 40-member Senate and 98 of 125 members of the Kansas House. Democratic opponents have filed to challenge three of the state’s four members of Congress, all Republicans. The only one without a challenger is Rep. Tim Huelskamp in the 1st District. Potential candidates in the western half of the state are pretty much assured of being in the 1st District, but various maps presented in the Legislature extended that district as far east as Wyandotte and Douglas counties. It’s hard for candidates in many areas of the state to know what district they will be living in or who their competition will be in an election race.
The same is true of many Kansas Senate and House districts. How can potential candidates make thoughtful decisions about whether to run for office when they don’t know who they will be challenging or who their constituents will be? Even if the federal judges panel announces its redistricting decision today, candidates will only have three or four business days to decide whether to enter the race.
The incumbent advantage is nothing new. It’s not unusual, for instance, for a large number of incumbent legislators to be re-elected without opposition, but this year’s delay in redistricting has created special obstacles for potential challengers.
It’s just one more reason Kansans should be embarrassed by this year’s redistricting process and committed to finding a better way to accomplish this task after the 2020 Census.