Politics & Government

Kansas House committee approves proposal to redraw Senate’s districts

TOPEKA — A key House committee has approved a proposal to redraw the Senate’s districts to make them more friendly for conservatives who plan to run against Republican incumbents.

On a 12-5 vote, the House Redistricting Committee approved a Senate district map called “For the People 13b,” proposed by conservative Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City.

The map makes numerous changes from a more moderate-friendly map called “Ad Astra Revised,” which was drawn by Senate leadership and passed the Senate on a 21-19 vote. The House has already voted not to accept that map.

In Sedgwick County, Abrams’ map would add more conservative suburban areas to the Wichita-based 25th District, where conservative Rep. Brenda Landwehr is challenging moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf. The 25th district includes Riverside and parts of northwest Wichita.

In Senate District 31, Abrams’ map splits Newton and cuts away a large part of Harvey County, a voting stronghold for Sen. Carolyn McGinn, who is being challenged by Wichita businessman Gary Mason.

The Senate has rejected two previous versions of the For the People map, by the same 21-19 vote that approved the Ad Astra map.

Monday’s debate highlighted the ongoing split between moderate and conservative senators.

Eight of the 19 senators who were on the losing end of the earlier votes on the Abrams and Ad Astra maps asked House members to approve For the People 13b and send it to the Senate for another vote.

“I’m confident this house and this committee can pass a better map (than the Senate),” said Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee. “It’s clear the Ad Astra Revised map was not bipartisan … It’s a map that puts incumbent senators (in safer districts) by drawing out opponents and reducing populations in incumbent senators’ districts. I just think it’s political maneuvering and inexcusable.”

House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, challenged Pilcher-Cook’s assertion that the Ad Astra map was not bipartisan. Seven of the eight Democrats in the Senate joined 14 Republicans in passing it.

“My recollection of the vote there is there were Democrats and Republicans that voted for that. Am I missing something?” Davis asked Pilcher-Cook.

She replied that it depends on what the definition of bipartisan is.

“I was thinking about limiting-government ideology (compared) with those who have big-government ideologies, and in that case it was not a bipartisan map,” she said.

Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, the chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said Pilcher-Cook’s comments point to the “800-pound gorilla” in the redistricting debate, the Senate’s moderate-conservative split that has been a hurdle for Gov. Sam Brownback’s legislative agenda.

“It really boils down to the governor wanting to have absolute control over all three branches of government,” Owens said.

“The whole issue of redistricting has been about taking out moderates,” who are defined as “anyone who has a different opinion on things than the conservatives,” Owens said.

Landwehr said she doesn’t think the Ad Astra or For the People maps are Republican enough, so the House should jettison both and start over.

In some districts, she said, the number of Republicans registered to vote would drop by 3 to 5 percent.

“I don’t understand that, when that is not in the best interest for Kansans,” she said. “It’s not the way to draw a map.”

The Senate Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. today, a session Owens called to hear from members about ways they might be able to break the impasse. The House Redistricting Committee is scheduled to meet at noon and send the For the People map to the House floor for an afternoon vote.

Assuming the full House passes the map, it is expected to face a tougher time in the Senate, which has already rejected two earlier versions of For the People maps.

Both the House and Senate are engaged in the once-a-decade effort to redraw legislative districts.

Traditionally, the Senate and House draw their own maps and each chamber passes the others’ district maps unchanged. But this year, conservatives hope to take over the Senate by challenging more moderate Republican incumbents in the GOP primary in August. The Senate has drawn maps friendlier to the GOP moderates.