TOPEKA — The House and Senate moved closer to deadlock on redistricting Tuesday with the speaker of the House accusing the Senate of a “bad motive” in drawing district maps and a key Senate chairman saying he’s so tired of conservative obstruction that he’s ready to call it a draw and let the state Supreme Court set election boundaries.
Still, the president of the Senate said he thinks there could be an 11th-hour agreement on new district maps.
With only three days left until the scheduled end of the legislative session, the House and Senate have yet to agree — and are still ideologically miles apart — on new district maps for the House, the Senate and Congress.
As conservatives and moderates battle over control of the Senate, Kansas is the last state in America to complete the once-a-decade task of redrawing legislative districts to account for population changes in the 2010 Census.
The House is poised to send the Senate a slight variation of a Senate district map that the Senate has already rejected twice. The Senate called a meeting of its Redistricting Committee and then cancelled it because there was nothing to talk about.
The House has rejected the so-called “Ad Astra Revised” map sponsored by Senate leadership, saying it was tilted toward protecting moderate Republicans and Democrats, who together hold a bare majority in the chamber.
The Senate has rejected a map called “For the People” by conservative Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City. Opponents say that map was drawn to undercut moderate Republicans and replace them with members more in tune with Gov. Sam Brownback’s conservative agenda.
The House is expected to approve and send the Senate a new variation of the For the People map.
Traditionally, House members have drawn their district map and the senators have drawn theirs, with each chamber passing the other’s without changes.
But in a committee meeting about the map, House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, blasted the Senate for deciding to pass the Ad Astra map instead of the For the People map.
He said that not only does the House have the authority to draw Senate maps, it has a duty to do so because the Senate sent an unacceptable map.
“With regard to this tradition thing, I respect tradition when it’s the right thing to do,” O’Neal said. “I do not respect it when it is used for a bad motive.
“What I saw frankly was bad motive that the Senate was going to take a position that they could pass the ugliest, most punitive map that they could and then expect the House to look the other way.”
He said the Abrams map originated in the Senate and that senators had asked the House to help them revive it, to “make it more possible for the Senate to have another look at this and do the right thing.”
He said the House’s aim is to “prevail upon the Senate with the changes that we’ve made to pass a map that’s fair.”
But Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, said it’s the House that’s playing power politics with redistricting.
“The reality is that if the House and the governor are bent on elimination of districts or boundary lines that would benefit moderates or Democrats in any way, then that’s their agenda and so anything they draw or anything they do has that agenda at the base of it,” he said.
He said the situation reminds him of an expression he learned in the military: Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.
“I’m kind of at that point in the process,” he said. “We can continue to meet and continue to talk about the same things, but I don’t think we need to do that. Frankly, I have confidence that if it goes to the court we’ll get a better result out of the court than we’ll get out of the House. And if that’s the case, why waste everybody’s time? Let’s just move it along and let the court make the decision.”
He scoffed at O’Neal’s contention that he was helping senators.
“The senators who appeared before the House, they were all the conservative senators, they were the ones that voted against the Senate map anyways,” Owens said. “So yeah, they get these folks to go over there, they’re going to go over and toot the same tune because they agreed with that tune to start with.”
Senate President Steve Morris said the House’s actions and O’Neal’s comments are “not helpful.”
“I’ve never thought it was prudent to try to denigrate the opposite house by doing these things,” he said.
However, he held out hope that the situation might still be resolved short of the courts.
On whether the slightly altered Abrams map will get another vote, he said, “we’ll make that decision when it gets here.”
Tuesday afternoon, he said another map might emerge to break the deadlock.
“We’re all operating in uncharted territory,” he said. But, he added, “This process is not ever completely over until the final gavel falls.”