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Monday, July 28, 2014

New state House maps pit friend against friend

By Fred Mann
The Wichita Eagle

Kansas House members reacted with disbelief, confusion and some anger after learning how their districts were altered by a panel of federal judges late Thursday.

Some had their bases of support yanked out from under them, and found themselves thrown into newly created districts with other incumbents, including members of the same party and good friends.

And, with a deadline to file for office looming on Monday, those lawmakers have only this weekend to decide their futures.

”In my wildest dreams, I never would have dreamed this would happen,” said Dan Kerschen, a Garden Plain Republican who was moved into a new District 101 with friend Joe Seiwert, R-Pretty Prairie.

Kerschen and Seiwert share an office in Topeka during the legislative session. On Friday, neither was sure which of them would return.

They talked to each other about the situation but didn’t come to any conclusions.

“What do you say? I have no desire to run against him,” Kerschen said. “We’ll sort through it.”

Seiwert said he didn’t want to run against Kerschen, either.

“I can’t believe this re-do of my district,” Seiwert said. “It doesn’t make a drop of sense to me.”

At least one House member decided to pull out. Joe McLeland, a 12-year Republican incumbent from Wichita, had filed for District 94 and was gearing up his campaign. But the new map put him against fellow Republican Les Osterman in a new District 97.

McLeland said he likes Osterman, who has served one term.

“I’m not going to run against another incumbent,” McLeland said. “After 12 years, it’s time to do something else.”

Osterman said he would have withdrawn if McLeland had decided to run.

“I couldn’t see beating up on each other,” Osterman said.

Osterman said he doesn’t know if he’ll have an opponent in the primary. He’ll have to wait until noon Monday to find out.

He was shocked by the new maps.

“A lot of us are just shaking our heads,” Osterman said. “I didn’t expect the map to come out the way it did. But that’s what happens. The people up there (in Topeka) couldn’t agree to stuff, so we have to live with what happened.”

Two Wichita Democrats, Jim Ward and Judy Loganbill, wound up together in a new District 86. Ward said he’d have to study the numbers to see how his support had been affected.

“I will be in the Legislature in January, but I’m looking at all the options,” Ward said. “It’s a whole new world.”

Ward said he thought the new maps were great.

“I really think this is an opportunity to fight for the future of Kansas all over the state,” he said.

Loganbill said she is running again. The new map retains her whole district, while adding Ward’s precincts, she said.

She said the judges did what they needed to do.

“This is what happens when you have an independent group that does it. This has the potential to completely change the entire Legislature,” she said.

Two Wichita incumbents from different parties, Republican Phil Hermanson and Democrat Geraldine Flaharty, were placed together in a new District 98.

Hermanson announced Friday that he would campaign for the seat. “I truly enjoy representing these constituents,” he said in a written statement. “So rather than moving to another district or finding a way to dodge this election, I’ve chosen to stand my ground….”

Flaharty said the new district isn’t what she expected. But, she said, “I think I can live with it, and I think I have a good chance of holding my seat.”

Three incumbent Republicans were matched in a new district northeast of Wichita. They include Peggy Mast of Emporia, Bill Otto of LeRoy and William Prescott of Osage City.

Prescott said he already had filed for his former District 59, but he doesn’t know what he will do now. His options include a possible Senate run, which would put him in a race against minority leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.

“I’ve had no aspirations to be in the Senate. That wasn’t even in my scope. But I guess over the weekend we better consider everything,” Prescott said.

Otto said he was not happy about it but would be ready. “Now that I know which streets to hit, I’m ready to hit the streets.”

Mast could not be reached for comment.

Vince Wetta, a Democrat from Wellington, found himself in a new District 116 with Republican incumbent Kyle Hoffman of Coldwater.

“I’m as surprised as anyone,” Wetta said. “All the maps we had in the House showed I was going north to Belle Plaine and Mulvane. Now, I’ve lost half of Wellington and I’m going west to Comanche County. Realistically, it’s going to be tough. I’ve been in there six years, but now I have to go meet people I’ve never met and never represented.”

Wetta said he may consider a Senate campaign instead.

Hoffman, who has served one term, said he would run in the new district, although he likes Wetta after serving with him on the House agriculture committee.

“I lost some good, solid supporters in Kingman and Kiowa counties,” Hoffman said, “but I feel like can represent Sumner County OK.”

Hoffman said he didn’t like what the judges did, and called them “irresponsible” for creating open districts so close to Monday’s filing deadline.

Contact Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com

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