Court redraw makes big changes to local Kansas House district
Topeka — Most voters in Douglas County will see a change in their political representation because of a redistricting ruling made by a three-judge panel.
“This is a complete redrawing of the political landscape,” Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew said Friday.
The federal court placed all of Douglas County in the 2nd Congressional District. For 10 years, the county and city of Lawrence have been split between the 2nd and 3rd Districts.
On the legislative side, significant boundary changes will shift state Senate and House districts in the county, as well as across the rest of Kansas.
“This is probably the most significant redistricting to happen in this state for decades,” Shew said.
It happened after the Legislature wrestled and failed all year to come up with a plan to redraw political boundaries based on changes and shifts in population.
The impasse arose after a power struggle erupted between moderates and conservatives in the Kansas Republican Party. Republicans control the Legislature with large majorities, and conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the conservative Kansas Chamber of Commerce played active roles in the redistricting drama.
After the breakdown in the session, dozens of attorneys went from the Statehouse to the courthouse.
Three federal judges in Kansas City, Kan., heard the arguments, pored over the maps and late Thursday filed their order.
Lawrence, Manhattan at center of congressional fight
The major dispute on the congressional side was over where to put Manhattan. Manhattan city officials wanted to stay in the 2nd, arguing that U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was better positioned to fight for funding in Congress for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, which is supposed to be built in Manhattan.
But the abutting 1st District, which covers all of western Kansas and most of central Kansas, needed population to attain a similar size to other districts. To keep Manhattan in the 2nd, plans surfaced to stretch the 1st into Kansas City, Kan., then east Topeka, and finally northeast Lawrence.
The three judges rejected those ideas, saying cities shouldn’t be split, and ordered Manhattan into the 1st.
Incumbent protection dissolves
When it came to state House and state Senate seats, incumbent protection, which was the focus of redistricting wars during the legislative session, went out the window before the court.
The judges’ maps produced nearly 50 districts that two or more incumbents lived in. Twenty-five of the newly drawn districts have no incumbent living in them. In the 40-member Senate, four districts have more than one incumbent and four have no incumbent.
In its order, the judges wrote, “The Court recognizes that because it has tried to restore compact contiguous districts where possible, it is pushing a re-set button; its maps look different from those now in place.
“Some changes may not be popular and some people – perhaps many – will disagree that the Court has struck the appropriate balance. To those in that category – our fellow Kansans – we reiterate that the Court did not tread unreservedly into this political thicket. On short notice, with elections pending on the immediate horizon, we have acted solely to remedy a legislative default.”
Douglas County changes
In Douglas County, state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, will see a large portion of her district move north into Jefferson County, and the district represented by state Sen. Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, will take in more of western Douglas County than it had previously.
The district represented by state Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, will now include much of southeast Lawrence, which Francisco had represented.
On the House side, the core Lawrence districts, represented by Barbara Ballard and Paul Davis, both Democrats, move westward, and Tom Sloan, a Republican, picks up a large part of northern Lawrence. The 10th House District, which had included a part of Douglas County, now is wholly in Douglas County and two incumbents legislators live there: TerriLois Gregory, R-Baldwin City, and Anthony Brown, R-Eudora. Brown’s 38th District has been moved into Johnson County.
Davis said he thought the changes in the 10th district were probably the most significant of the Douglas County House maps.
Candidate filing deadline soon
Despite the huge changes statewide, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the deadline for candidates to file for state or federal office will remain unchanged. They will have until noon Monday.
“We have an unprecedented situation with the way these maps were drawn,” Kobach said.
But Kobach said the Aug. 7 primary can still take place on schedule.
“Right now, we are doubtless seeing many incumbent legislators and many potential candidates across the state scrambling to make a decision by noon on Monday as to whether they will run and exactly what they will do,” Kobach said.
A lot of jockeying occurred just hours after the new maps were revealed with legislators announcing retirements, and others saying they would seek office in a different district or try to make the leap from the House to the Senate.
Kobach said any other plaintiff or intervener in the redistricting lawsuit could appeal the three-judge panel’s maps to the U.S. Supreme Court. But, he said, because the district size population deviations are small, the appeal may not be successful.
Kobach, a Republican, praised the judges for drawing the district lines promptly, but criticized the work product, saying “it is a pretty disruptive map.”
He said he couldn’t speculate on whether the maps benefit one party more, or conservative or moderates within the GOP. “We may not know until November,” after the general election, he said.
Shew said even though the maps have caused an uproar he appreciates what the judges did.
He said that, nationally, whenever redistricting is taken over by a nonpartisan commission or a judicial panel “tons of incumbents get thrown in together.”
Shew said, “Here you have an impartial panel who basically stated politics and incumbency is not part of our charge and that is what created the maps.”
Registered voters in Douglas County will be getting cards soon telling them what districts they are in, Shew said. “We knew there were going to be changes,” he said since the Legislature and Brownback were tasked this year with the once-a-decade redistricting process.
Asked for a response to the judicial decision, Brownback issued a short reply: “It’s now in the hands of the people.”