Rethink redistricting

Everybody who still thinks the Kansas Legislature is competent to handle redistricting, say “aye.” Anybody? Nobody? Now, if only lawmakers would recognize as much.

No matter who ends up drawing the new maps for congressional and legislative districts and State Board of Education districts, the 2012 legislative session will stand as the best argument yet for the creation of an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission in Kansas.

The redistricting effort started as soon as new census numbers were available last summer, but GOP infighting has made agreement between the House and Senate elusive, perhaps impossible. Even Gov. Sam Brownback sounded Thursday as if he’d resigned himself to seeing a court decide at least the Senate map.

But which court? Some say it would be the Kansas Supreme Court’s job to sort out the maps. But Secretary of State Kris Kobach warned the Legislature Wednesday that if it didn’t agree on new districts this week, he would supply maps for federal court judges to consider.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and the Brownback administration haven’t been helpful. Because the chamber and governor are determined to use the August GOP primary to seize control of the Senate from moderate Republicans, Senate leadership has responded by trying to draw districts to protect incumbents from would-be conservative challengers. In response, the House broke protocol by trying to draw Senate maps. Efforts toward a congressional map have been nonsensical, too, including a House proposal Thursday to put part of left-leaning Lawrence in the rural, heavily Republican 1st Congressional District.

Quotes from senators’ Wednesday working group session on a Senate map confirmed that lawmakers see the process not necessarily as best serving communities and common sense but as one of “trying to honor everyone’s wishes” and avoid “hurting” this or that lawmaker.

Because no maps have managed to pass both chambers, candidate filing has been delayed to June 11 and the state’s ability to hold the primary on Aug. 7 is in serious doubt.

As the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call observed last week, noting Kansas is the last state in the nation to adopt a congressional map: “Kansas redistricting should have been simple. Republicans control the state House, state Senate, governor’s mansion and all four congressional seats. What’s more, the state is a landlocked rectangle, so there’s no need for creative cartography.”

A proposed constitutional amendment in a Senate committee could avoid similar disasters in 2022 and beyond, by asking voters to establish a five-member redistricting commission to draw maps that would go to the Legislature for up-or-down votes.

Changing the constitution would require two-thirds approval in both chambers of the Legislature, no easy feat. But the past 96 days should have been enough to convince lawmakers that their responsibilities should no longer include redistricting.

For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman