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KS: Judicial remap scrambles state House

By   /   June 8, 2012  /   News  /   No Comments

By Gene Meyer | Kansas Reporter

FAIRWAY — Elaine Bowers’ plan to run for the Kansas Senate this fall changed abruptly late Thursday.

A federal court in Kansas City, Kan., moved the Senate District 21 seat — that Bowers intended to seek — more than 200 miles east to a fast-growing Kansas City suburb, minutes from the Kansas-Missouri line. The district had been in primarily rural north-central Kansas.

Ordering the change were Chief Judges Kathryn Vratil of the U.S. District Court of Kansas and Mary Beck Briscoe of the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, as well as Senior Judge John Lungstrum of the U.S. District Court of Kansas.

The District 21 move was one aspect of a total remapping of Kansas’ congressional, legislative and state school board voting districts, adjusting for population changes recorded in the 2010 U.S. Census.

The Kansas Constitution requires the Legislature to make those changes after each census to protect equal voting rights statewide. But legislators in the most-recent session did not agree on a redistricting plan, and last month adjourned for the first time in state history without passing one.

Monday at noon is the deadline for candidates for Congress, the Legislature and the Kansas State Board of Education to file for their respective offices. That means that many would-be candidates, such as Bowers, will have to decide quickly whether to run in what could be a radically altered contest.

No problem, said Bowers, a Concordia Republican who has represented Kansas House District 107 in the Legislature since 2007. She’ll just run for the geographically larger Senate District 36, which the judges drew around Concordia instead.

“If you are a rural legislator, it’s a dream district,” Bowers said of the now 10-county Senate district sprawling across almost a third of northern Kansas.

“I’m going to Topeka to file Monday,” she said.

Scores — perhaps hundreds — of other candidates may not be so lucky, said Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state’s chief election officer.

“The good news is that the courts have reached a decision in time to hold Aug. 7 primaries,” Kobach said. “The bad news is that the timing is going to be unusually disruptive.”

In the newly redrawn 125 districts for the Kansas House, for example, 48 of those districts are home to more than one incumbent legislator, whose political fates could be determined in primary or general election battles. And 25 new districts have no incumbents living in them.

Kansas has no way to delay the filing deadline, so decisions that candidates and voters might have had two months to make now must be made in just two working days, Kobach said.

“This is disruptive for legislators and it’s disruptive for voters who now may be represented by someone they don’t even know,” Kobach said.

The judicially drawn maps also raise the possibility, said Kansas State University political science professor Joe Aistrup, “of a fundamental shift in the state’s political topography.”

“You’ve got 48 districts (with more than one incumbent resident) in which one incumbent may lose, and you’ve got 25 other districts that are completely open,” Aistrup said. “That is huge.”

The judges’ orders for redrawing boundaries of the state’s four congressional districts, 40 state Senate districts and 10 state board of education districts may be less far reaching , he said.

“In the congressional maps, Manhattan is the big loser,” Aistrup said.

Manhattan, which includes both Kansas State University and families of nearby Fort Riley, will become the biggest city in the sparsely populated 1st Congressional District, which covers most of the western half of the state.

Representatives of that city previously lobbied legislators and testified before the federal judges arguing to remain in the 2nd Congressional District— basically northeastern Kansas, excluding Johnson and Wyandotte counties — because of claimed ties to eastern Kansas and the Kansas City-Lawrence area.

But in Thursday’s opinion, the court said keeping Manhattan in the 2nd District “would cause adverse affects elsewhere in the state,” and pointed to one alternative, which lawmakers proposed, that would have extended a sliver of Kansas’ far western 1st Congressional District along the state’s northern border to Leavenworth, on the state’s eastern border. That “extremely contrived First District” would be “inappropriate,” the court order said.

Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, in the more heavily populated Kansas City area, shrinks geographically to Wyandotte and Johnson counties, plus the Miami County parts of Spring Hill and Louisburg, which straddle the Johnson-Miami line.