Redistricting proposals reflect politics more than voter equality

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JIM O’MALLEY


KPA Legislative News Service




TOPEKA-While legislators work to resolve the states budget problems, they are also redrawing the state’s political map.


Actually, it’s three maps: one for the state’s four U.S. Congressional districts, one for its 125 state House of Representatives districts, and one for its 40 state Senate districts.


The goal is to equalize population among districts so that everyone’s vote counts the same, recognized as a requirement of the U.S. Constitution since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Baker v. Carr in 1962.


But within this constitutional limit on what the Legislature can do, there are different ways to draw maps with equal districts. The choice is a political one.


It has been since the early 1800s, when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry oversaw the drawing of a district that favored his party and that political opponents said looked like a salamander. Ever since, the process of drawing districts to favor a particular political party has been known as gerrymandering.


House Majority Leader Shari Weber, R-Herington, said the Legislature would follow the one-person, one-vote principle and try to keep counties whole and districts square and compact. But, ultimately, it’s a partisan political process.


“This is not about fairness,” she said. “It’s about partisan politics. That means that the majority party will draw maps and set districts, and the minority party will do anything to delay it.”


The process has just begun and the Legislature will see a lot of maps before it’s over. Weber said computer technology makes it possible to generate many different maps with equal districts.


The report of the Legislature’s special committee on redistricting contains 27 congressional district maps, two state house maps, and two state Senate maps, all with fairly equal districts.


“The maps are flying about like autumn leaves,” said Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson. “It’s an amusing process.”


But Democratic legislators don’t consider it good clean fun.


Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said the Senate map proposed by the redistricting committee’s Republican majority violated the committee’s own guidelines on redistricting. The guidelines, adopted by the committee last year, said that districts shouldn’t split existing political subdivisions and that contests between incumbent legislators should be avoided.


The Republican proposal would eliminate the district of Sen. Janis Lee, D-Kensington, and carve it up between five districts now represented by incumbent Republicans, Hensley said. Lee would be put in with Sen. Stan Clark, R-Oakley.


Hensley said the Republican proposal would also pit two incumbent Democrats, Chris Steineger, D-Kansas City, and Mark Gilstrap, D-Kansas City, against each other.


The map would also move 14,000 constituents from the district of Sen. Paul Feleciano, D-Wichita, to another district, and give him 18,000 from the district of Sen. Nancy Harrington, R-Goddard.


“This is nothing more than partisan gerrymandering to try to defeat Sen. Feleciano,” Hensley said.


He said equal districts could be drawn without these changes.


The House map proposed by the committee majority also would affect Democratic legislators. Rep. Troy Findley, D-Lawrence, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the map would create five new districts by collapsing 10 districts now held by Democrats into five.


If adopted, he said, the proposal would set up five contests between incumbent Democrats:


n Jerry Henry, D-Cummings, and Bruce Larkin, D-Baileyville;


n Bob Grant, D-Cherokee, and Jerry Williams, D-Chanute;


n Eber Phelps, D-Hays, and Laura McClure, D-Osborne;


n Dennis McKinney, D-Greenburg, and Alan Goering, D-Medicine Lodge;


n Broderick Henderson, D-Kansas City, and Doug Spangler, D-Kansas City


The committee’s congressional map would split the Democratic stronghold of Lawrence, and Democrats have complained that this is meant to defeat Dennis Moore, the state’s only Democratic congressman.


But not all the concerns about redistricting are based on partisan politics. Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, said, “Douglas County Republicans and Democrats are united. They don’t want to be split. But a lot of legislators look at Lawrence and say, ‘You’ve got everything- high-paying jobs, the university- there’s a lot of county envy.'”


People just don’t like having their communities split between districts, Findley said. It dilutes their clout with their representatives.


The committee majority’s proposal also would split the city of Newton and would split Geary and Riley counties, which have a community of interest centered on Fort Riley.


“People there aren’t too happy about it,” Findley said. “We’ve received a lot of mail.”


Rep. Doug Mays said another concern about redistricting was the shift of population and power from rural to urban areas.


The committee’s House map would create four new urban districts. With its population growth, Johnson County has earned two or three House seats, Mays said. A shift of power from rural to urban districts was inevitable, but how to mitigate the loss to rural areas was a legitimate concern.


“Maybe we’re not thinking out of the box,” he said.


Mays said it was important to remember that at this point all the maps are only proposals. All were subject to change, and other proposals would be introduced.


Thursday, Hensley and Finley introduced a congressional redistricting bill that would not split Lawrence. And Mays said the Republican leadership of the committee and the ranking House members on the Democratic side were sitting down in a good-faith effort to work out a solution.


The Legislature was working under tight deadlines to pass a redistricting bill in time for automatic review by the Kansas Supreme Court with enough time before June election filing deadlines to try again if the Court didn’t like it.


Tom Sloan said the previous redistricting gave him pause.


“It’s ironic,” he said. “Ten years ago, the Democrats had control of the House, redrew the maps, and then promptly lost control of the House.”


The committee’s report, maps, and other redistricting information are available on the Legislature’s Web site: http://skyways.lib.ks.us/ ksleg/KLRD/Redistrct/redistr.htmwww.accesskansas.org/.

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