Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 12 June 2012 11:54
The court-drawn legislative maps that threw Kansas Republicans and Democrats into a tizzy when they were released last Thursday will mean a complete makeover for the political identity of Marion County in Topeka.
The new map drawn for the House of Representatives will now divide the formerly unified county between two districts, while the map drawn for the Senate will unify the county that was previously divided.
For the House, the new District 70 will pair Marion and roughly the northern half of Marion County with Dickinson County, while Hillsboro and Peabody will join most of Harvey County—not including Newton—and a portion of southeastern McPherson County in District 74.
All Marion County residents will be represented by somebody new when the House begins its next session in January.
Republican Bob Brookens, who has been representing the 70th District since 2008, decided over the weekend that he will not seek re-election in order to focus his energy on transitions in his law practice. Longtime partner Keith Collett was appointed in May as a district magistrate judge for Dickinson County.
Meanwhile, Republican Don Schroeder of Inman is the incumbent representative for District 74. Schroeder has filed for re-election.
“Don is a good man,” Brookens said. “He and I agree on some issues and on other issues we don’t. But that’s probably the way it is with 99 percent of legislators. Don’s a bright man. I’ll let him speak for himself, but I’d say we voted more together this year than any of the four years I’ve been there.”
As for a successor in District 70, Brookens said he is aware of two people who appear poised to run. Ironically, one of them is John E. Barker, who is the judge who resigned in April that led to Collett’s appointment to the bench.
“There will be someone else running who is of the mind set and philosophy of mine that will be running from the Enterprise area in addition to the gentleman who was a judge and is from Abilene,” said Brookens, who declined to identify the other candidate by name prior to the filing deadline.
“There will be a clear choice in this race,” he added.
In the Senate, all of Marion County will be included in District 35, which is now being served by Republican Jay Emler of Lindsborg. Emler also was elected majority leader during the recent legislative session.
Under the former map, the western fourth of the county was included in District 35 while the rest—including Hillsboro, Marion and Peabody—was part of District 17, which was represented this past year by Republican Jeff Longbine of Emporia.
The new 35th District includes all of Ellsworth, McPherson, Marion, Morris and Chase counties as well as the western half of Rice County and the southern half of Dickinson County.
The changes facing Marion County constituents are almost minor compared to the impact of the court-drawn maps on the statewide scene.
Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who decided not to appeal the new maps, said Friday, “It’s probably the most disruptive redistricting in Kansas history.”
For example, in the House, the new alignment leaves 25 of the 125 districts with no incumbent and there was the potential for 48 incumbent vs. incumbent races prior to Monday’s filing deadline.
Kansas law requires filers to “reside” in the district they wish to represent at the time of filing. That means the political parties needed to work all weekend to find candidates for the open seats, or convince incumbents to establish residence in the new open districts before Monday at noon.
“We have people moving—or at least pretending to move by getting an apartment where they don’t live—so that they can run somewhere,” Brookens said. “But that’s their issue, not mine. Mine is that I have too many irons in the fire.”
The panel of three federal judges were given the mandate to draw the final maps after the Legislature was unable to draft them during the 2012 session.
“To say they weren’t able to is probably a mistake,” Brookens said. “To say they had no intention to would be closer. “
He said Gov. Sam Brownback and the Kansas Chamber were maneuvering to oust eight to nine Democrat or moderate Republican senators from office by creating maps that would give advantages to conservative candidates.
“Then they kept throwing up road blocks, and then the House threw up roadblocks so that the map they came up with would not get passed,” Brookens said. “That was very frustrating.”
Whether the judges’ maps will thwart the effort to increase the power of conservative Republicans won’t be known until after the August primary election, he added.
“There is the prospect that the Kansas Chamber and governor will have a sufficient network that they will attempt to find people to run in those districts—and there may or may not be more thinking Republicans that have a chance to make that a consideration or not. I just don’t know.”