Senate’s map debate turns ‘ugly’

By Paul Harris

The effort to draw a new Senate map broke down into a turf war Wednesday as conservative and moderate Republican factions each tried to position themselves to win control heading into the fall elections.

“It was very ugly,” said State Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan, one of the moderates. “People won’t realize how ugly it was. Both groups are uneasy with which the other one is trying to do.”

A map drawn by Sen. Tim Owens, a Johnson County Republican and a moderate, was forwarded to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for consideration. That followed the Senate’s defeat of a map drawn by Sen. Steve Abrams, an Arkansas City Republican and a member of the conservative bloc, on a 21-19 vote. Reitz praised Sen. Bob Marshall, a Fort Scott Republican, for casting the vote that defeated the Abrams map.

Reitz said that he believes the Senate Ways and Means committee will approve the Owens map, known as “Ad Astra,” because of the committee’s moderate tendencies. If that happens, the Senate will take up the map again. “All major votes are going to be 21-19 or 20-20,” he said.

Gov. Sam Brownback wrote a letter to the Senate stating his displeasure with the “Ad Astra” map. Brownback said it is out of step with the spirit of the “one person, one vote” because in 32 of the 40 districts, there is a deviation of 3.4 percent or more in population. By Senate rules, districts are allowed a deviation of plus or minus 5 percent.

Brownback also said that Leavenworth County should have its own Senate district. Currently, two Democrats, Tom Holland, of Baldwin City, and Kelly Kultala, of Kansas City, represent the area. Brownback will have to approve the final map.

Reitz said if Abrams’ more conservative-friendly map, known as “We The People,” had won out, “anything the governor wants will be passed.”

Once a map is passed out of the Senate, it will go in to the House redistricting committee and then will be voted on by the House.

Reitz said nothing is close to being finalized. “(There’s) no way to know which way it’s going to go.”

Several conservative House members were reported to be particularly uneasy about the delay in finalizing a new Senate map because they are interested in challenging moderate Republican senators. Those prospects have to be put on hold until a map takes shape that tells the House members whether they even live in the appropriate Senate districts. The nominal filing deadline for legislative offices is June 1. But the Secretary of State’s office has already stipulated that if redistricting isn’t finalized by May 10, that deadline will be put off until June 10.

The situation is equally unsettled on the House side, where efforts to redraw Congressional boundaries remain the focus. State Rep. Tom Phillips, a Manhattan Republican, was one of more than two dozen lawmakers who switched their votes on the Congressional map Wednesday morning. Those representatives had supported the so-called ‘Capitol 1’ map Tuesday afternoon only to turn around and reject it following a Wednesday caucus of House Republicans.

Phillips said although he liked ‘Capitol 1,’ he acceded to a request by members of the House redistricting committee to take another shot at drawing a map that would be more generally acceptable. “I think they got a clear message” to protect Manhattan’s interests in any new map that is produced,” he said.

That may not be equally true, however, of a major metropolitan area that has to date been viewed as central to the makeup of the Second District. There was open speculation following Wednesday’s reconsideration that the House committee’s next step may be to shift part of Shawnee County — and possibly even Topeka — into the First District in order to find a numerical balance. The House committee has scheduled another hearing on the question for noon Monday.

“Somebody will not be happy,” Phillips said.

Until the re-vote, the unhappy parties appeared to be those in southeastern Kansas, who under ‘Capitol 1’ would have been shifted from the Second District into the Wichita-based Fourth District. But that shift, which would have balanced the district numbers while retaining Republican registration margins in all three Congressional districts — appeared to have been scotched by the re-vote.

Assuming, as lawmakers have indicated, that southeast Kansas is not moved into the Fourth District, and that neither Manhattan nor Kansas City is moved into the First, then the next mathematically viable option could be to split Shawnee County, keeping part of it in the Second District and moving part o fit into the First District. The thought of that prompted angry denunciations Wednesday afternoon from members of that county’s legislative delegation.

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