Chaos in Kansas leads to workable maps
The Kansas City Star
The strange and muddled Kansas legislative redistricting process concluded Monday with a sort of poetic justice.
Conservative Republicans, whose quest for political control was at the core of the Legislature’s failure to agree on maps, found their numbers potentially diminished by the new districts drawn by a panel of three federal judges.
After dozens of candidates scrambled to meet a noon Monday filing deadline for new seats that were announced only on Thursday night, Secretary of State Kris Kobach observed that one upshot of the debacle was to “allow the infusion of new blood into the Kansas political system.”
And since Kansas is the only state whose legislature completely dropped the ball on redrawing political boundaries, it’s hard to argue that fresh faces aren’t needed.
The judicial panel came up with a workable “re-set” of Kansas politics. Ideally, it also would have extended the filing deadline for a few days. The new maps for House and Senate districts depart radically from existing boundaries, and the court gave candidates precious little time to make decisions about if, and where, to run.
But, as the judges noted, their job was to “remedy a legislative default.” Any grousing about the rushed process or the redrawn maps is properly directed at lawmakers.
In drawing the new maps, judges followed a constitutional requirement to draw “compact, contiguous” districts. Protecting the seats of incumbents or opening doors for challengers weren’t priorities.
As a result, a number of incumbent lawmakers found themselves placed in the same district, while other newly drawn districts are wide open.
“You couldn’t be more disruptive if you tried,” House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson, complained to the Topeka Capital-Journal.
But O’Neal has only himself to blame. He insisted that the House reject a Senate map that went out of its way to accommodate two conservative House Republicans who were looking to challenge moderate Republicans in the Senate. O’Neal, an ally of Gov. Sam Brownback, wanted even more concessions from moderate Republicans.
However, the maps drawn by the federal judges appear more favorable toward moderate Republicans and Democrats than anything the Legislature was contemplating.
It would be nice to think lawmakers would learn from this year’s fiasco and get to work on establishing a nonpartisan redistricting commission to tackle the task a decade from now.
But redistricting is now a dirty word in Kansas government. Chances are it won’t be spoken in public for a long time.