TOPEKA – You can’t take the politics out of redistricting – at least in the Kansas Senate.
The first proposed maps to redraw Senate boundaries bump at least two conservative Republicans who plan to challenge sitting Republican senators in the primary election out of the incumbents’ districts.
In one of two drafted maps, which few expect to garner support, Gary Mason, who plans to run against incumbent Republican Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, would be bumped into an elongated district with two incumbents — Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, and Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City.
The Kansas Chamber of Commerce, which is backing the more conservative Republicans, immediately branded the proposal floated by Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, as gerrymandering.
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Owens, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment Committee, said he doesn’t expect the map to go anywhere. He said he put the map full of controversial issues out as a conversation starter – a way to ignite open debate in a process where he says too many people hold their plans close to the vest until the right opportunity.
Ignite it did.
“They say they are non-political even as they try to gerrymander their opponents out of their districts,” Ivan Crossland, chairman of the chamber’s political action committee, said in a news release. “Enough is enough.”
Masterson’s district would reach from north Wichita to the Oklahoma border, and he said it’s clear that was just the result of manipulating the map to bump challengers out of incumbent’s districts.
“I think that by definition is gerrymandering,” he said.
Masterson said he doesn’t take the map very seriously, and that even if it made it through the Senate, he doesn’t think Gov. Sam Brownback would sign it.
Though Owens said he doesn’t expect that map to pass, he left the door open to maps that would bump announced challengers out of incumbents’ districts.
“It’s interesting that they’re filing (to run against incumbents) without knowing what their district boundaries are going to be,” he said. “I think it would be wrong as chair of the committee or anybody to draw the entire district set up on the basis of one person.”
Gary Mason, who lives near the existing boundary of McGinn’s District 31, said it wouldn’t make sense for him to run against any incumbent who shares the same political views. He said that Owens’ map – and another map that would also bump him out of McGinn’s area – is focused on one thing: removing a challenger.
“I believe in competition, whether that’s in the private sector or the government sector, and competition breeds better results,” he said. “And I think this was an effort to eliminate competition.”
McGinn said she expects to see a lot more maps before the committee votes to move a map to the Senate floor for a debate.
“This campaign is months away,” she said. “Right now, I am focused on jobs, not legislative maps.”
District 31 will need to shed about 7,500 people in order to be balanced with other districts, according to 2010 Census data.
McGinn said she wishes the state chamber would focus on keeping businesses like Boeing in Kansas instead of legislative maps.
The statement distributed today is the chamber PAC’s latest attack on moderate Republican senators, which the PAC views as unfriendly to business and as a roadblock to the elimination of income taxes. The PAC is backing eight conservative challengers to incumbent senators. Conservative Republicans already hold sway in the House and governor’s office, making the Senate the last stronghold of moderate Republican views.
Chamber representatives have zeroed in on the Senate’s inaction on an income-tax cutting bill last year and support for a temporary sales tax increase in 2010 as primary reasons to attack incumbents.
Moderate Republicans have voiced support for dozens of business-friendly bills through the years. But many of them supported the temporary sales tax increase when faced with looming budget deficits that could have further cut into funding for education programs and other government services.
Meanwhile, Senate President Steve Morris and his allies have voiced opposition to some major aspects of tax cutting bills, including those pitched by Brownback and House Republicans, because they cap the growth of state spending at 2 percent, a move they say could further damage the state’s education system and other services after several years of belt-tightening.
The Senate Reapportionment Committee will meet again today at noon to discuss maps.