A potentially positive byproduct of the Kansas Legislature’s dismal redistricting failure is that Kansans now can get some idea how a nonpartisan or bipartisan redistricting process might benefit the state.
After months of haggling over the legislative and congressional district maps, legislators threw in the towel last week and allowed the process to be turned over to the federal courts. Three judges have scheduled two days of testimony beginning Tuesday to hear from 27 constituents and officials concerning the factors they believe are important in redrawing the district maps based on 2010 census figures.
The judges are well aware of the time pressures that now are coming to bear on this process, including the need to move forward with filing deadlines in time to allow August primary ballots to be distributed to Kansas military personnel who are stationed abroad. They are being asked to complete a task, perhaps in a matter of days, that the Legislature was unable to complete in four months.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach urged the judges to limit the number of parties who can testify in the proceeding in order to speed a redistricting decision. Time certainly is of the essence, but the judges are right to hear from all of the concerned parties.
A small controversy also has broken out over the legal fees the state might incur as part of the redistricting case. It would, indeed, be unfortunate if Kansas taxpayers have to bear significant legal costs in this process, but that’s something legislators should have thought about before forcing redistricting into the courts. The state already has wasted far too many resources on this process. Perhaps additional legal fees will help convince state residents and lawmakers of the need to find a better, less political, way to redraw representative districts.
The judges have a number of responsibilities in redrawing the districts, including equalizing the population in each district and respecting various communities of interest. They do not, however, have any of the political obligations that stymied the redistricting process in the Legislature. They have no reason to consider, for instance, what U.S. House Speaker John Boehner thinks of U.S. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., or how Kansas Senate districts could be redrawn to eliminate election competition for incumbent senators. Redistricting isn’t an easy task, but it’s far less difficult when it is conducted by a group of people who can rise above the political pressures.
Bickering for months over redistricting and then letting it go to a judicial panel is one way to take some of the politics out of the process. A better option would be to consider routinely turning the process over to a bipartisan redistricting commission like the one proposed by Kansas Senate leaders in the closing days of the last session. The proposal came too late to get serious consideration this year, but it should be at the top of next year’s agenda.
We wish the federal judges well as they move forward with the redistricting process on Tuesday. It’s time to put the interests of Kansas ahead of political gamesmanship.