Legislative maps likely to be drawn in court

Positioning for an increasingly likely court fight over redistricting, the House of Representatives and a Senate committee both passed Senate district maps Thursday that are unlikely to ever pass both houses.

With the annual session scheduled to end today, hope is fading that the House and Senate will reach accord on redistricting. If they can’t, the districts will end up being drawn in court.

The deadlock has already forced a change in the deadline for candidates to file for the upcoming August primary election. The Secretary of State’s Office announced the deadline to file for House, Senate and Board of Education seats is being pushed back from June 1 to June 11.

Conservatives have targeted at least eight Senate Republican incumbents for primary challenges in an effort to take control of the Senate from more moderate elements of their party.

All involved believe that the way the district lines are drawn can heavily influence whether conservatives or moderates prevail in the Senate. That has delayed the once-every-10-year task of realigning House, Senate and congressional districts to account for population shifts in the 2010 Census.

The Senate Reapportionment Committee, having had its original Senate map rebuffed in the more conservative House, passed three new district maps Thursday for consideration by the full Senate. All three maps draw conservative challengers out of the districts of moderate incumbents they want to challenge.

Later, the House sent the Senate a variant on a district map the Senate has rejected twice. That map, which originated with Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, is far friendlier to the conservative challengers.

Rep. Clay Aurand, R-Belleville and vice chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, blamed the delay on the conservative-moderate division in the Senate.

“I’m hopeful that the fear of the unknown will motivate some senators to finally find a way to talk to each other,” Aurand said.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, has already said that he thinks the courts would draw a fairer map than anything that could pass the staunchly conservative House.

House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, said the maps the Senate will consider are all unacceptable because they exclude the challengers, and he urged the House to go forward with the Abrams map.

“I would respectfully suggest that we not wait for the Senate to pass us yet another fatally, incredibly flawed map that perpetuates this arrogance of entitlement to districts at the expense of anybody who would dare to challenge them,” O’Neal said.

At O’Neal’s request, the Senate had amended its original district map to put two challengers — both sitting members of the House — in the districts where they want to challenge sitting senators.

“We gave them a map that put them (the challengers) in and none of them voted for it,” Owens said.

Senate leaders have said they thought they had an agreement with O’Neal to approve their maps if they did that.

Instead, O’Neal denied such an agreement existed and he escalated the battle with disparaging comments about the Senate and by getting the House to step in and put through its own Senate map.

The Senate’s three new maps, called “Buffalo 20,” “Buffalo 30” and “Buffalo 40,” all would create a new Senate seat in Johnson County, which has grown in the past 10 years to more than 90,000 people – about 20,000 more than the average population of a Senate district.

Each of the three maps also creates a district where incumbent senators would have to run against each other:

•  The Buffalo 20 map would set a head-to-head match for the 40th District between Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, and Sen. Allen Schmidt, D-Hays.

•  Buffalo 30 would match Abrams against Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover.

•  Buffalo 40 would match Schmidt against Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg.

In Sedgwick County, any of the three maps would draw Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, out of the 25th District, where Landwehr wants to challenge incumbent Sen. Jean Schodorf. Landwehr would be in the 29th District, a largely minority and Democratic district now represented by Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau.

They also separate incumbent Sen. Carolyn McGinn from her prospective opponent, Wichita businessman Gary Mason.

As part of the failed negotiation with O’Neal, the original Senate-passed map, called “Ad Astra Revised,” was amended on the Senate floor to put Landwehr in Schodorf’s district and Rep. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park, in the district where he wants to challenge Owens.

The new maps also draw Smith out of Owens’ district.

Landwehr said the new maps are “unrealistic” and split communities of interest.

“They’re ignoring the rules that were set out by the committee and ignoring federal law,” Landwehr said.

Schodorf said she’s tired of the “continuing saga of the maps.”

She said redistricting generated the same kind of “animosity and tension” 10 years ago but the factions eventually were able to settle it.

“I believe we will vote on another map, which one I don’t know,” she said. “I still hope the House will accept our map.”

As for putting Landwehr in her district, Schodorf said “I tried” to do so and on the new maps, “I would probably do it again.”

Contributing: Brad Cooper of the Kansas City Star