A Monday bill-signing by New Hampshire’s governor left Kansas in last place among states for the redrawing of congressional districts this decade. While the shame is fresh, Kansas lawmakers should not only pass this year’s maps but also put a reform on the November ballot that would avoid all this in 2021-22.
So far this year, only the House passage of its own map has gone smoothly – and that plan was killed off late last month as the Senate nixed a House-passed congressional map that would have split Topeka between districts.
Passage of a Senate map has been complicated by outsider meddling, including by the Brownback administration and special interest groups, as well as attempts to carve conservative primary challengers out of some senators’ districts. The Legislature reconvened Wednesday amid threats that the House would break protocol and start drawing its own Senate map – though House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, wisely stopped short of doing that Wednesday, saying he’s “cautiously optimistic” the Senate will act soon.
Besides splitting the capital city, dumb congressional maps proposed so far would have put urban Kansas City, Kan., or left-leaning Lawrence in the 1st Congressional District – an especially bad fit given the seat currently belongs to Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler.
More frustrating, Huelskamp’s extremism is said to be imperiling the sensible Senate-passed map that would add Manhattan and agriculturally rich Kansas State University to the rural “Big First.” According to Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has warned that such a move might threaten federal funding of the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan.
Lawmakers have heard from Attorney General Derek Schmidt and Secretary of State Kris Kobach about what will happen if they fail to finish the maps by May 10. Schmidt warned of a postponed Aug. 7 primary and costly lawsuits. Kobach spoke of a possible constitutional crisis, and sought to set straight any lawmakers who think the Kansas Supreme Court can redraw legislative districts for them.
Kansans deserve better than this. That’s why, while they’re on the subject, lawmakers should act now to put a better system before voters on the November ballot. The Kansas Senate GOP leadership is reviving the proposed reform, which would essentially fire the legislative mapmakers for dereliction of duty and turn the process over to a five-member bipartisan redistricting commission. The Legislature still would approve the commission’s maps, but only with up-or-down votes. The change takes a constitutional amendment, which requires approval of two-thirds of the House and Senate and a majority of voters.
That’s what Kansas needs.
And each day of the wrap-up session that the Legislature fails to finish the maps will stand as another reason to stop trusting lawmakers with redistricting next time.