Tim Owens, Jean Schodorf fall on redistricting sword
The Kansas City Star
To see why Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback so badly wants to run moderate Republicans out of the state Senate, look no further than Tuesday’s votes on redistricting of legislative seats.
Two crucial votes — including the decision one to send a map to the House — were decided by a 21-19 margin. It was the classic matchup of conservative Republicans versus the moderate Republican-Democrat alliance. Swing three votes, and the Senate looks a lot different. So does the state of Kansas, because right now only the Senate stands between Brownback and the low-tax, shrunken-government agenda he’s got in mind for Kansas.
Kansas is the last state in the nation to still be hashing out new legislative districts in the wake of the 2010 Census. If the wait goes on much longer, the state will have to postpone its August primary. Anxious to move matters off dead center, two moderate Republicans — Tim Owens of Johnson County and Jean Schodorf of Sedgwick County — agreed to oddly drawn districts that would include their prospective primary opponents.
The challengers, current House members Greg Smith of Johnson County and Brenda Landwehr of Sedgwick County, filed for the Senate without waiting to see what Senate district they’d be running in.
“I think it’s wrong to … draw someone in just because they’re filed,” said Owens, who had the unenviable job of chairing the redistricting committee. “That, my friends, is gerrymandering.” Still, Owens and Schodorf agreed to fall on the sword. They are able politicians, but opening their seats to primary races will likely make them targets of well-funded attacks from conservative groups who want Brownback to have an open field.
Owens, an Overland Park lawyer, referred to that during debate.
“The 800-pound gorilla in this room is that the governor and the folks from the House who are of a very conservative mind decided they were going to take on anybody who disagreed with them, anybody who had a different view,” he said. “They don’t like the fact that this body has had the ability to moderate many of the things that are going on.”
The drama isn’t over, however. House Speaker Mike O’Neal was sending signals Wednesday that he won’t accept the Senate map until senators agree to carve yet a third conservative challenger into a moderate’s district. If that happens, a judge might end up drawing the districts. That would be a kind of justice in itself, considering how much conservative lawmakers disdain Kansas judges.