Absence of maps will become a court case

By Bill Felber

The Kansas Legislature’s failure to approve new maps for the state’s four Congressional districts plus its House and Senate leaves the local political situation in a state of confusion with just three weeks remaining before the filing deadline.

The Legislature adjourned Sunday without redrawing boundaries for any of those three maps, or for the state’s Board of Education districts. The issue will now be decided by a federal court, although state and local election officials were not clear Monday precisely how or when that process would unfold.

“We’re going to have some talks internally,” remarked Brad Bryant, an assistant secretary of state who specializes in election issues. The first thing, he said, will be to “find a way to get (the question) into court.”

Kansas is the only state that has not redrawn its congressional boundaries to reflect population changes in the 2010 census, a Constitutionally mandated action.

The issues are consequential on several levels locally. The inability to agree on Congressional districts means that a court now will decide whether the city and Riley County remain in the Second Congressional District or is moved into the First District. During the legislative session, local forces lobbied long, hard and apparently successfully to keep Manhattan in the Second District, with numerous plans being approved by one House or the other that would have done just that. But none of those plans could gain majority support in both houses of the Legislature.

The redrawing of the Senate map will also be closely watched here because the residence of one of the two formal candidates for that office, Bob Reader, is close to the boundaries proposed on numerous legislative maps. It will now be up to a court to determine whether Reader’s residence remains in the 22nd District.

Election officials have to hope that whatever the court does occurs quickly. By state law, the state’s primary is to be held Aug. 7, and a federal law requires that the state send out ballots for that primary to registered voters living overseas by June 23. Since the ballots can’t be sent until candidates have filed, and candidates can’t file until the district boundaries are known, the window is narrowing for the state’s ability to comply with the June 23 federal deadline for sending out ballots. And no, the state cannot delay the primary.

“That’s a law…we don’t have the authority to move an election date,” Bryant said.

The one substantive election-related development Monday was the formal announcement by 67th District State Rep. Tom Phillips that he will seek re-election to a full term. Phillips all but made that official in January when he stipulated he would run in the process of winning a local caucus vote to succeed Susan Mosier, who had resigned.

A former Manhattan Mayor and City Commissioner, he outlined four key issues that motivated his decision to run for re?election – local job creation, education, military relations and government efficiency.

“The Manhattan area and Fort Riley are bright economic stars in our state, but we have work to do,” he said. Now is the time to support private sector job growth in Kansas and attract businesses looking to capitalize on NBAF and the research opportunities at Kansas State University.

Phillips also said he wanted to emphasize education, and the government’s role.

“Our state government must operate more efficiently,” he said. “This means being accountable for every dollar and allowing local governments to work with fewer strings attached.”

The best vehicle to get the entire matter of district boundaries settled appeared Monday to be a suit filed last month by Robyn Renee Essex of Olathe. In that suit, Essex asked for the appointment of a three-judge panel to redraw the boundaries. That filing also contains a proposal to redraw Congressional boundaries in a manner that would split the northern portion of Riley County into the First Congressional District while retaining the southern portion — including Manhattan - in the Second District.

The court would not be bound to consider Essex’s proposed solution, and in fact several people have already requested to be allowed to intervene in the case. One of those is Frank Beer, a Manhattan business owner who has been active in Chamber of Commerce efforts to influence the redrawing of maps in a way preferred by Manhattanites.

“If you look at all the maps, it’s been almost totally political,” Beer said. The Manhattan effort, he said, was the exception. “We’re the ones talking about communities of interest.” In support of that, he cited arguments made by Chamber leaders for keeping Manhattan in the Second District on the basis of strengthening what is referred to as the Animal Health Corridor between Manhattan and Columbia, Mo., and also in terms of keeping K-State and the University of Kansas together.

Secretary of State Kris Kobach filed a challenge to the effort by Beer and others to become party to the case, saying their interests did not differ substantially enough from Essex’s to merit their inclusion.

Unless and until a change is announced, county elections supervisor Jolene Keck said the filing deadline for all state and national office candidates remains June 11 at noon.

The only election-related aspect that is unaffected by the Legislature’s failure to draw new maps is the deadline for filing for county offices. That remains June 1. To date three candidates have filed for the Third County Commission seat presently held by Karen McCulloh, who is not seeking re-election. No candidates have yet filed for the Second District seat held by Al Johnson, who has not yet indicated his re-election intentions.

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