Topeka Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Chamber of Commerce are pressuring the state Senate to adopt a redistricting map that could produce a much more conservative Senate.
“For years, the left wing of the Republican Party has held power in the Senate,” stated an email from Ivan Crossland, chairman of the Kansas Chamber Political Action Committee, to senators.
“Those in control are grasping to hang to their power while it is seemingly slipping from their hands as voters become more attuned to their liberal voting record of overspending and overtaxing,” Crossland said.
Last week, Crossland and Brownback contacted legislators urging them to vote against a redistricting map called Ad Astra that was approved by the Senate redistricting committee.
After a bruising debate in the Senate, the process stalled, and senators will again tackle the issue this week. After each 10-year census, the Legislature redraws legislative, congressional and State Board of Education boundaries to accommodate population changes.
The Ad Astra map drew district lines in a way that placed declared challengers to moderate Republicans in other Senate districts, Crossland said.
“We strongly urge you to vote ‘NO’ on the Ad Astra map and all other maps that draw out these announced opponents. It is a vote against Kansas voters,” Crossland said.
Brownback said one of his concerns was that the Ad Astra map didn’t respect communities of interest because it failed to make Leavenworth County self-contained in one Senate district.
Such a move would jeopardize two Democratic senators, Tom Holland of Baldwin City and Kelly Kultala of Kansas City, Kan., who each represent a portion of Leavenworth County. Holland was the Democratic nominee for governor who ran against Brownback in 2010, and Kultala was Holland’s lieutenant governor running mate.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who has been through the redistricting process five times, said the actions by Brownback and Kansas Chamber were an “unprecedented intrusion into the legislative process.”
“It’s an assault on the Senate moderate majority and is open warfare on them in the session and next election,” Hensley said.
House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, said the Kansas Chamber is no longer a business organization.
“They have just become an advocacy organization for the right wing of the Republican Party,” Davis said. He said the chamber hasn’t endorsed a Democrat in years, and seldom endorses moderate Republicans.
“If a pro-business Democrat comes along, we would be happy to endorse them,” said Jeff Glendening, vice president of public affairs for the Chamber.
The Chamber has been working against legislators who in 2010 voted for the temporary increase in the state sales tax from 5.3 cents per dollar to 6.3 cents per dollar. The Chamber said it was an unfair burden on taxpayers and would hurt Kansas’ economic recovery. Supporters of the increase said it was necessary to avoid harmful cuts to schools, social services and public safety.
Under the temporary increase, the sales tax is set to decrease to 5.7 cents per dollar next year.
But the Chamber now supports keeping the sales tax at 6.3 cents per dollar and paying down income tax rates. Brownback’s tax plan endorses that position.
While the Ad Astra map didn’t make it out of the Senate, neither did one pushed by conservatives that was introduced by state Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City.
State Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said that proposal would have wiped out most of the current eight Democrats in the 40-member Senate. Kelly said she probably would’ve survived the election under the Abrams map, but the Democratic caucus meeting could have been held “in the fourth-floor bathroom.”