Politics & Government

Kansas House speaker threatens Senate over redistricting

TOPEKA – House Speaker Mike O’Neal threatened the Senate on Thursday, saying that if it doesn’t approve a new Senate redistricting map before the Legislature adjourns this week, the House will start drawing Senate boundaries itself on the day lawmakers return April 25.

The push is the latest flashpoint in the politically sensitive process of drawing new political boundaries to reflect updated Census figures.

Earlier in the session, leaders in the House and Senate said they intended to let each chamber draw maps for its members. But that loose agreement has soured as political rifts develop.

Senators initially agreed last week on a map that protects three incumbent Republican senators from their conservative Republican primary challengers. But senators did not give that map a second vote to advance it to the House and have not taken up the issue since.

The House approved its own redistricting map in February, then made minor changes and approved the new version Thursday along with a congressional redistricting map. The Senate still must consider those maps.

“By running out the clock, it appears the Senate is playing more political ploys,” O’Neal said in a news release. “When legislative maps must pass mandatory court review in time to meet federally imposed deadlines to ensure ballots can be sent to our troops serving out of the country, not taking action is wholly inappropriate and indefensible.”

His news release noted that in 2002 during redistricting, the House map was published March 21 and upheld by the court April 26. The Senate map was published April 8 and upheld May 9.

If the House does draft and approve new Senate districts, the Senate could still vote the map down. But the back-and-forth has the potential of putting even more pressure on lawmakers in an election year.

For example, senators initially approved and then backed off of a plan that would have bumped Wichita Republican Rep. Brenda Landwehr out of District 25, where she plans to challenge incumbent Wichita Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf in the August primary.

That’s one of several races viewed as critical to moderate Republicans who hold sway in the Senate. Conservative Republicans hold a majority in the House.

Senate President Steve Morris deflected O’Neal’s threat in a comment e-mailed to The Eagle.

“The Legislature has a long-standing tradition that each chamber will draw its own map,” Morris said. “The Senate will continue to pass good public policy, including a map, much as we have responded to the concerns of Kansans and focused on job growth, funding schools and lowering property taxes. I would hope that the House would do the same.”