Republican control of Kansas government seems all but absolute, thanks to the party’s sweep of statewide offices and pickup of 16 Kansas House seats in this month’s election. It will be a while before Kansans find out whether the GOP juggernaut will ease the post-census remapping of congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts — or translates into a fight as heated as the last one, which drew a governor’s veto, landed in federal court and nearly postponed an August primary.
The job sounds simple enough: Using the latest census data, redraw district boundaries to ensure that one person’s vote in one district has approximately the same weight as the vote of any other person in the state. But the task can get tricky, especially if those involved see the opportunity to remake the maps to serve their agendas and hurt their political rivals.
Unlike in the 1990s, Kansas isn’t expected to see slow population growth translate into the loss of a congressional seat in this round of redistricting. That’s a relief.
But Republican lawmakers can be expected to try to ensure the newly GOP-only congressional delegation stays that way, just as they sought to dilute Democrats in 2002 by dividing liberal Lawrence between two districts and separating obvious “communities of interest” Junction City and Fort Riley.
The biggest fights will be over the state’s population shift from rural to increasingly urban. Predictions are that the counties west of U.S. 81 could lose two Kansas Senate seats and as many as seven House seats.
Then there is the concern about whether minority populations will see their voting strength eroded by new maps.
At the very least, the new cast of characters for the 2012 redistricting process should make things interesting.
As Senate majority leader, Derek Schmidt unsuccessfully championed reform of the process as recently as 2009, saying that the status quo invites “hyperpartisanship, legislative bitterness and personal animosity.” Schmidt pushed a bipartisan, independent approach similar to that favored in Iowa and other states. Now, Schmidt is attorney general-elect — in the position that Carla Stovall held in 2002 when she filed a federal lawsuit over the congressional map.
The leader of the House redistricting effort in 2002 is the House speaker now — Rep. Mike O’Neal, RHutchinson. And Secretary of Stateelect Kris Kobach can be expected to make the most of his responsibility to supply lawmakers with data.
Once the new legislative district maps emerge from the Legislature and are signed by Gov.-elect Sam Brownback, they must be reviewed within 30 days by the Kansas Supreme Court to ensure they comply with state law. Though congressional maps are not automatically subject to court review, all in recent memory have been challenged in court.
One thing is clear: If the looming redistricting effort again turns hyperpartisan and nasty, there will be calls to fix it before 2022. If the GOP lawmakers in charge want to avoid all that, they will make 2012 redistricting as fair, logical and transparent as possible.