Usually, any fights about legislative and congressional redistricting occur between Republicans and Democrats. In a Republican state like Kansas, such disputes usually are settled fairly quickly in favor of the majority party.
In an interesting twist, the biggest redistricting battle in Kansas this year apparently is being waged within the Republican Party itself over how to redraw Kansas Senate districts.
By tradition, the Kansas House and Senate usually take care of their own redistricting maps, which then are routinely approved by the opposite house. The Kansas House already has passed a plan to redraw its own districts, but the process isn’t going as smoothly in the Senate.
The conservative end of the state Republican Party, supported by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce, already has announced plans to try to oust a number of moderate Republican senators, including several in key leadership positions, from their seats. Last week, the Kansas Senate’s redistricting committee, perhaps in response to that threat, approved a map that would protect several incumbents by drawing new district lines that would exclude their already announced conservative challengers.
After both the Kansas Chamber and Gov. Sam Brownback voiced opposition to the plan and urged a number of senators to vote against it, the so-called Ad Astra plan failed to gain Senate approval. The Senate redistricting process stalled temporarily and is expected to be revisited this week.
According to some Democratic leaders, it is unusual for the governor and his staff to get involved in the House and Senate redistricting process. It’s impossible to know the tone of Brownback’s lobbying against the map, but the possibility that any governor would allow his or her action on pending legislation to be influenced by how one or more senators voted on redistricting is unsettling.
The governor’s most public complaint about the Senate map is that it does not make Leavenworth County into a single Senate district. Leavenworth County currently is split between two districts represented by Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and Kelly Kultala, D-Kansas City. Brownback’s interest in Leavenworth County may be justified, but it’s impossible not to note the political impact that redrawing those lines would have on Holland and Kultala, who formed the Democratic governor and lieutenant governor team that opposed Brownback in the last election.
It’s no surprise that the once-a decade redistricting process can be a raw political battle, but what makes this year interesting is the open warfare that is on display within the Republican Party. About the only good news for Kansas voters is that this battle is being played out in a relatively public manner for everyone to see. The best news for the state would be for Kansans to finally realize the detrimental impact this highly political process has on every facet of the legislative process and insist that lawmakers seriously consider a fair nonpartisan process to accomplish redistricting in the future.