Politics & Government

District maps headed for judges panel

TOPEKA — Preparing to take their months-long redistricting battle to federal court, Republican Senate moderates and Republican House conservatives passed district maps they hope will beat their rivals before a three-judge panel that will open the case on Monday.

The senators passed a map called “Buffalo 30,” which favors moderate Republican incumbents over GOP conservatives, who control the House and the governorship and have announced plans to try to take control of the Senate.

The House turned its attention to the congressional districts, passing a map that splits the Democratic stronghold of Lawrence and strengthens the GOP’s chances of holding all four of Kansas’ seats in Congress.

The Buffalo 30 map is the second map senators have passed. With virtually no chance in the House, it was designed to give the Senate the strongest possible map for the coming court case.

The map has major implications for south-central Kansas Senate races.

It puts both Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover and Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, in the 16th District, which could mean a head-to-head battle between two prominent Senate conservatives in the August primary.

The map also carves conservative Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, out of the 25th Senate District, where she has announced plans to challenge moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf.

The map also leaves Wichita businessman Gary Mason out of the 31st Senate District. Mason plans to challenge incumbent Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick and has said he will move to run against her if necessary.

Along with most of the conservatives in the Senate, Masterson and Abrams both criticized the map during the floor debate.

Masterson accused Senate redistricting committee Chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, of pushing for a map similar to one Owens had once considered unacceptable.

Chuckling, Masterson likened it to a running gag on Saturday Night Live in which the late Chris Farley would open embarrassing celebrity interviews with the line “you remember when you said …”

“That (earlier map) was obviously gerrymandering, you remember what your response was to that?” Masterson asked Owens. “ ‘That wasn’t serious, that was a conversation starter,’ well here’s the conversation and it’s a serious conversation … It’s ironically right in front of us now.”

Asked if he wanted to respond, Owens drew laughs in the chamber when he deadpanned “I have no comment, unless he’s referring to me as Chris Farley.”

After having failed multiple times to get one of his maps passed, Abrams didn’t seek a vote on the version the House had approved.

He said he repeatedly tried to draw maps that didn’t create incumbent vs. incumbent matchups and to make changes to accommodate criticism.

“I have not much doubt what the outcome is going to be,” he said. “To that end, I think I will just have a seat and just say we know where it’s headed and I would suggest we just get there as quickly as we can.”

The Senate’s first district map, called “Ad Astra Revised,” was rejected by the House.

House members complained that the population deviations from district to district in the Ad Astra map were too large and passed an Abrams map instead.

Population deviation is generally an important factor for courts considering redistricting plans, because the purpose of redrawing district lines is to account for population changes and provide for equal representation.

Buffalo 30 gives the Senate leadership and majority a map with smaller deviations.

The Legislature is required to redraw the House, Senate, congressional and state Board of Education districts every 10 years.

With the House and Senate deeply divided, the decision is now destined for the courts, although there are differing opinions on whether state or federal courts will make the final call on the state offices.

The court review begins Monday with motion hearings at the Kansas City federal courthouse, where Johnson County Republican precinct committeewoman Robyn Essex has filed suit against Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Kobach, a former chairman of the state Republican Party, is closely linked to the conservative faction of the GOP.

In court papers filed this week, Kobach recommended the court choose from maps that have made it partway through the Legislature, or let him draw the maps.

Two Johnson County residents, Benjamin D. Craig and Larry Winn III, filed to intervene in the case on Friday. According to their filing, they have both been active in local politics and fear that some proposed maps would leave their rapidly growing county under-represented.

The three-judge panel on the case will include two Kansas district judges, Chief Judge Kathryn Vratil and Senior Judge John W. Lungstrom, and Judge Mary Beck Briscoe, chief judge of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vratil and Lungstrom were appointed by the first President Bush; Briscoe was appointed by President Clinton.

Kathryn Vratil is Senate President John Vratil’s ex-wife.

Sen. Vratil, R-Overland Park, is a leader of the Senate’s moderate Republican faction.

While the Senate worked on its own districts Friday, the House passed a new map for congressional seats.

Under the new map, dubbed Kansas Six, east Lawrence would be part of a west Kansas district and west Lawrence would be part of an east Kansas district.

The House’s original map, rejected in the state Senate, had split Topeka in much the same fashion, with the east side of the city going to the western district and west Topeka in the eastern district.

The new map passed with the barest of majorities, 56-54 with 15 members absent or not voting.

The districts in the proposed map are considered favorable to incumbent Republicans who now hold all four seats in the congressional delegation.

During floor debate in the House, it was revealed that the sitting Congress members had reviewed the maps, although it was not made clear how much influence they had over the drawing of their districts.

The primary objection to the new map was that it dilutes voting strength of moderate- to liberal populations in Lawrence, hometown of the University of Kansas.

East Lawrence would be at the end of a peninsula linking it to the 1st Congressional District, which includes all of western Kansas and is dominated by conservative Republicans.

West Lawrence would be part of the 2nd District, which is now held by Republican Rep. Lynn Jenkins, but is considered more of a swing district and sent Democrat Nancy Boyda to Washington from 2007 to 2009.

Rep. Barbara Ballard, D-Lawrence, said her city and her party are being treated unfairly by Republicans, who want to dilute the Democratic vote and cement their control over the congressional delegation.

“We know that underlying agenda is there,” she said.

Rep. Lance Kinzer, R-Olathe, who carried the bill on the floor, acknowledged that the main reason to pass another map was to strengthen the House’s hand in the coming court case.

Splitting a city was necessary to balance populations among the districts, Kinzer said.

He said Lawrence being part of two districts could benefit the area because two congresspersons would need to pay attention to the city.