Topeka The main figures in the Kansas Legislature’s rancorous debate over redistricting — except Gov. Sam Brownback — hope to participate in a federal lawsuit over lawmakers’ failure to draw the state’s political boundaries.
And Secretary of State Kris Kobach said Tuesday he worries that the lawsuit will drag out because of the number of parties who could be allowed to call witnesses, present evidence and submit redistricting proposals to the three judges hearing the case in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan. Kobach is the defendant because his office oversees elections under whatever boundaries are set.
Twenty-seven individuals met the midnight Monday deadline to submit requests to intervene. They include House Speaker Mike O’Neal, senators who drew maps for their chamber’s 40 districts and conservative candidates planning to challenge moderate Senate incumbents in GOP primaries this summer.
The three judges expected to decide today whether to allow 14 of the individuals, including O’Neal, the map-drawing senators and the Senate candidates, to participate in the lawsuit. The judges approved requests from 13 individuals Monday, despite an attempt by Kobach to persuade them to limit who could intervene.
“This is precisely what I warned the court would happen,” Kobach told The Associated Press. “I really hope that the court is prepared to handle this.”
The Legislature adjourned Sunday without drawing new election maps for the state House and Senate, the State Board of Education and the four U.S. House districts. The lawsuit was filed earlier this month by Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe.
A bitter dispute between conservative and moderate Republicans over new Senate districts prevented the passage of any redistricting legislation. Each GOP camp anticipates that new lines could help or hurt its candidates this year and determine whether the Senate’s moderate GOP leaders retain power and check the conservative Republican governor’s agenda.
Kansas is the only state in which legislators haven’t drawn new congressional districts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kobach pushed the judges to impose their maps by June 4 so Kansas can hold its primary election on Aug. 7 without major glitches. But the judges told him that administrative issues were of lesser importance than getting a variety of perspectives and drawing fair maps.
Brownback said he didn’t ask to intervene because redistricting is primarily a legislative function, though he said he could later file “friend of the court” arguments without participating directly in the case.
“I never submitted a map to the Legislature, nor have I indicated a preference for any specific map,” he said in a statement. “I determined it would not be appropriate to join the case as a party and make arguments in support of a specific map.”
However, Brownback negotiated late in the session with legislators over redistricting in an unsuccessful effort to broker a deal settling multiple major issues. He also said he supports giving Leavenworth County its own Senate district, rather than continuing to split the relatively populous county between two districts.
O’Neal, a conservative Hutchinson Republican, named himself the House Redistricting Committee’s chairman and had his chamber attempt to intervene in the Senate’s impasse. His request to intervene noted that his name was mentioned in court Monday.
Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, a moderate Overland Park Republican, already has been permitted to intervene. He drew and defended Senate maps that conservatives criticized strongly, and three GOP conservatives who drafted counter-proposals are now seeking to intervene. They are Sens. Steve Abrams, of Arkansas City; Jeff King, of Independence; and Ray Merrick, of Stillwell.
Three conservative Senate candidates seeking to intervene were drawn out of the districts of the GOP moderate senators they are challenging under proposals backed by moderates. The candidates are Reps. Brenda Landwehr, of Wichita, and Greg Smith, of Overland Park, and Gary Mason, a Wichita-area businessman.
The redistricting lawsuit is Robyn Renee Essex v. Kansas Secretary of State, No. 12-cv04046 in the U.S. District Court for Kansas.