Though the Kansas primary is three months away, its potential to change which GOP faction controls the Senate has hobbled not only lawmaking but basic communication in Topeka. That helps explain the shameful fact that redistricting remains undone on the 87th day of the 90-day session.
A Topeka Capital-Journal article detailed last week’s failure of the House and Senate to agree on a new map of Senate districts, and how things deteriorated to the point that the House Redistricting Committee broke long tradition and redrew Senate boundaries Monday. It also underscored how key some south-central Kansas districts have been to this mess.
Gov. Sam Brownback, who would love to see the Senate moderates unseated by conservatives more favorable to his agenda, reportedly sought a redistricting solution in meetings with the two GOP leaders in each chamber, Senate President Steve Morris, R-Hugoton, and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, and House Speaker Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson, and House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfreid, R-Olathe.
At some point Morris and Emler were asked to explore changing an earlier Senate map that had drawn several conservative challengers out of the districts of the targeted incumbents. And the Senate debate and vote last week played out accordingly, with Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, persuading her fellow senators to include would-be challenger Rep. Brenda Landwehr, R-Wichita, in Schodorf’s district while Sen. Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, reluctantly did the same for Rep. Greg Smith, R-Overland Park.
The Capital-Journal reported that Sen. Ray Merrick, R-Stilwell, “grabbed a microphone to complain the deal on the Senate map had three components — not just two. Wichita businessman Gary Mason was added to the district of Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, for purposes of an August primary showdown.”
But that complaint did not take the form of an amendment, and the Senate approved the map that accommodated only the two challengers who were sitting House members.
“The speaker said the House would accept our map if the challengers were put back in. It was stated they would be Smith and Landwehr,” Morris told the Capital-Journal.
Not so, claimed O’Neal and Siegfreid. “This meeting took place in the governor’s office. There were to be three put back in the map,” Siegfreid told the newspaper.
Meanwhile, Brownback “was not aware of any deal — and it appears the final result is reflective of that,” spokeswoman Sherriene Jones-Sontag told the Capital-Journal.
The result after all the confusion: O’Neal led the House to kill the Senate-passed map.
The Senate leaders’ earlier willingness to protect incumbents by carving their challengers out of their districts reflected poorly on them. But the deal-or-no-deal episode cast the House’s leadership as operating in bad faith.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman