Just when many Kansans thought this year’s redistricting drama couldn’t get any more bizarre …
Late Thursday night, a panel of three federal judges released redistricting plans that could be the most significant development in Kansas politics in a century. After decades of district lines being drawn primarily to protect incumbents in the Kansas congressional delegation and Kansas Legislature, the judges drew district maps based on the stated criteria of protecting community interests while producing districts that are as compact and contiguous as possible and with populations that are as equal as they can practically be.
What the judges didn’t consider was what impact the new lines would have on incumbent officeholders. If you don’t believe it, just ask the 45 Kansas House members and six Kansas senators who now live in the same district as another incumbent House or Senate member. In a few of those cases, one incumbent already has decided not to run (or, in one case, is now deceased), but, in many other districts, the new lines could produce some ideologically interesting races in November.
The concentration of incumbents into fewer districts also left the state with no incumbents and, in some cases, no filed candidates for 25 Kansas House seats. That’s no small problem considering that the filing deadline still is noon Monday. It’s an opportunity for some political newcomers to get involved, but it also may be a boon to real estate agents or landlords if some incumbents decide to move away from their new competition and establish residency elsewhere.
It’s likely to be a busy weekend in political circles and an even busier Monday morning in the secretary of state’s office as candidates from across the state file.
In the big scheme of things, changes in Lawrence and Douglas County were relatively minor. Reps. Barbara Ballard, Paul Davis and Tom Sloan all still live in their same districts and are the only incumbents in those districts. However, Reps. Anthony Brown, R-Eudora, and Terri Lois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, now reside in the same district. Sen. Marci Francisco’s district now includes much of Jefferson County, and Sen. Tom Holland’s district stretches far into Leavenworth County, but neither district includes another incumbent.
All of Douglas County now lies in the 2nd Congressional District, according to the map adopted by the judges, which is almost identical to a map passed by the Kansas Senate early in the session but rejected by the House. That map also puts Manhattan in the 1st District, which was an outcome many legislators fought to avoid because they wanted to protect Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ Republican voter base and because they reportedly had been warned by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner that having U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp representing Manhattan might endanger the future of the National Bio- and Agro-defense Facility there.
That was only one of the political factors the judges chose to ignore in their decision. The judges acknowledged in their written order that because the court was trying “to restore compact, contiguous districts where possible, it is pushing a reset button” that produces districts that look far different than the previous maps. To those who would disagree with their conclusions, the judges offered a reminder that they “did not tread unreservedly into this political thicket. On short notice, with elections pending on the immediate horizon, we have acted solely to remedy a legislative default.”
Many legislators probably now regret their decision to allow the court to settle their redistricting feud. Some may be considering ways to appeal the court’s decision either before or after this year’s elections. The maps drawn by the judges have set the stage for significant changes in the Statehouse and perhaps more serious consideration of changes to our redistricting system. They certainly offer a vivid insight on just how political our redistricting process had become and how profoundly different it would be with the politics removed.