Kansas' Redistricting News
The vote was close, but the Senate by a 20-17 vote gave tentative approval Thursday to a proposed constitutional amendment designed to remove politics from the redistricting process.
However, the measure is doomed unless the Senate and House can both muster a two-thirds majority, the vote required to approve constitutional amendments and send them to the voters.
What has been proposed is an eight-member commission that would redraw the boundaries of our legislative, congressional and State Board of Education districts.
The proposal was in response to last year's legislative debacle, in which the redistricting process became so politicized that gerrymandering almost became an art form.
North Newton was out of, then back in, the Fourth Congressional District after being plucked out and sent to the First Congressional District, which comprises most of western Kansas.
The maps that came out of Senate and House committees had no reasonable explanation -- except, of course, politics.
The measure proposed would try to remove the bias of politics from the decision about how to design "communities of interest" and avoid zig-zag boundaries that look more like the work of Zorro than of competent politicians.
Would an independent commission do a better job? Let's hope so.
But it certainly couldn't do much worse.
This bill likely won't pass because politicians are, well, politicians. They hate to give up political advantage, especially when they're in the majority.
The concept, first proposed by Sen. Derek Schmidt, would set up a commission of seven members appointed by each of the following: the governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Senate president, Senate minority leader, House speaker and House minority leader.
This proposal makes so much sense that we're sure our elected officials will find something wrong with it.
The Republicans already dominate the debate about redistricting because of their huge advantage in both the Senate and the House.
So it's likely they won't want to give up that advantage, especially under a Democratic governor.
But this process won't be repeated until 2012, which means no one knows which political party will occupy the governor's office.
The idea might not fly for long, but Sen. Derek Schmidt has proposed a bill that would help Kansas avoid a repeat of the fiasco last year over redistricting.
You might recall that our politicians made an absolute mockery of the process of redrawing the boundaries for the state's congressional districts and those for the Kansas House and Senate.
The process became so politically charged and so laden with special interest gerrymandering that at times the proposed maps had no reasonable explanation.
Schmidt is co-sponsor of a proposal to offer a constitutional amendment that would create a commission to redraw the districts next time.
And he hit the problem right on the head when he said this: "Reapportionment should be about our constituents choosing us, not us choosing our constituents."
When politicians are in charge, they think of their own self-interest. They wonder where they can change the boundaries of their district to include more of their supporters and remove more of their opponents.
While that is best for the politicians and the parties, it's certainly not what is best for voters.
That's because you cannot gerrymander boundaries without the likelihood of sacrificing the important concept of "communities of interest."
Last year, North Newton was excised -- temporarily -- from the Fourth District and placed in the First District, which is composed mostly of the western half of Kansas.
But North Newton is a part of the "community of interest" that comprises Newton and Harvey County. It has nothing in common with western Kansas.
Other proposals broke the state into a hodge podge of boundaries, with one goofy proposal that would have included in the First District counties all the way from far western Kansas all the way down to the southeast corner of the state.
Schmidt's idea for an independent commission would include seven members appointed by each of the following: the governor, chief justice of the Supreme Court, chief judge of the Court of Appeals, Senate president, Senate minority leader, House speaker and House minority leader.
Under today's circumstances, that would give us three Democratic Party appointments and two Republican Party appointments with the final two based on the beliefs of the chief justice and chief judge.
We like the idea. It's not perfect, and it's likely that career politicians won't want to give up this kind of power.
Whatever the case, the voters of Kansas don't deserve a repeat performance of the goofiness of 2002 10 years down the road
No one will deny this year's legislative session will be a tough one. It will take experienced leaders and new ideas to solve the state's budget crisis.
Newton-area residents will have the best of both worlds in their representation. Newcomer Rep. Tom Thull will join veterans Sen. Christine Downey, in her third term, and Rep. Carl Krehbiel, recently re-elected to his third term, in Topeka Monday.
Thull said he has been exposed to a lot of information in the past few months, but he's excited to learn about the process and politics involved in state government. Some issues Thull said he expects to encounter are the expansion of gaming, sales tax on Internet/catalog sales, a 911 tax on wireless phones and regulations affecting the Equus Beds.
"I'm a freshman Democrat. I'm new, and I think I can help our district more by learning the process and listening," Thull said. "I don't want to speak before it's my turn."
Tom Thull, who won election in November, will begin representing Newton and North Newton in the Kansas House of Representatives.
The looming budget shortfall is one of the prevalent issues legislators will face. Downey said there will be a $600 million deficit for 2003. Combined with the deficit left from 2002, the state is nearly $1 billion in the hole, she said. Possible solutions of cutting the Department of Transportation's funds and taking down the state's ending balance requirement could spell trouble for the future, Downey said. If some of the road projects are not complete, Kansas roads could become dangerous. Furthermore, Downey said, the state continually issues statements of indebtedness, and lending to itself has not helped the budget problems.
The budget crisis resulted from several factors, Downey said. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the national recession are two unavoidable factors. Krehbiel agreed Kansas is among the states hardest hit by the economic downturn.
The other factor is the tax cuts from 1998. The legislative session of 2002 involved using every sort of "budgeting trick," Downey said, so there are not many left.
Cutting programs may not be the answer. Downey said she believes $1 of prevention is worth $6 later, especially concerning early childhood education, senior citizen care and care for the handicapped.
"It's hard to start cutting off some of the programs we've worked so hard to push through," Downey said. "We've got to make decisions in ways that save money without postponing the problem."
She said quality education is key to producing a highly skilled work force, which eventually will improve the economy.
Thull said the Legislature must prioritize, deciding the levels of service Kansans expect and the government's responsibility to provide those services.
"I'm convinced if you think you're getting your money's worth, you don't mind paying taxes," Thull said.
But the budget is not the only task facing Kansas lawmakers. Downey said changing the notification date districts give laid-off teachers and teachers give districts costs nothing. Where the date stands now, districts cannot plan for the future because they don't receive budgets until after the legislative session -- only a few months before the next school year.
Another priority for Downey is completing legislative redistricting. After every census, the state must re-evaluate school and legislative districts. Trying to decide these boundaries during the year they had to change and with politically-charged decision-makers unsuccessful, Downey said.
She and another senator will propose establishing an independent commission with the intent to draw district lines objectively. The commission's plan would then be brought to the Legislature. Downey hopes to institute the process, so action after the next census will not be as difficult.
Site-specific regulations for protecting the Equus Beds aquifer also will be an important issue, Downey said. Whether the permit is for a house, city or hog operation, Downey said regulations should be based upon the site's soil porosity, water level and toxicity of the pollutant. The Equus Beds deserves specific regulations because of its uniqueness, Downey said.
"We all need to work for better ways to use water," she said.
As vice chair of the utilities committee, Krehbiel said he wants to work at establishing wireless 911 location services for the state. The wireless companies, League of Municipalities and Kansas Association of Counties have been obstacles in the past because each organization wanted to complete the project on their terms, Krehbiel said. But Krehbiel said he believes there is a compromise plan that will work for everyone.
"This needs to be done for public safety," Krehbiel said.
Another project Krehbiel wants to see through is the KANED program, which brings high-speed broadband Internet connections to schools, hospitals and libraries. Krehbiel said the program offers potential for distance learning resulting from school consolidations or a student's interest in a subject the school doesn't offer. KANED also will provide a backbone for telemedicine.
All programs will come under scrutiny this session as legislators attempt to prioritize government services, Thull said.
"It is so important now to get the political stuff out of the way. I'm optimistic from what I've heard and seen that there is common ground (between Republicans and Democrats) to get this back on track," Thull said.
Krehbiel said legislative leaders need to focus on keeping the session in the allotted days.
"Now we know what we are dealing with," he said. "We should get done on time."
The Wichita Eagle
TOPEKA - Junction City residents upset over a congressional redistricting map passed by the Legislature have taken their case to the attorney general.
Attorney General Carla Stovall has been asked by a group from Junction City to file a lawsuit over the plan, which puts the military town in the 1st District and nearby Fort Riley in the 2nd.
Stovall's office confirmed Tuesday that she was approached by members of the community.
Stovall spokeswoman Mary Tritsch said Stovall's decision was expected soon.
A lawsuit would put the plan in federal court, where a three-judge panel would decide the boundaries for the state's four U.S. House districts, reflecting population shifts over the past decade.
Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh said the issue must be resolved by June 10 to maintain the current election schedule. If the map is not complete by that date the filing deadline would be pushed back to late July.
"If the filing deadline is pushed back, we have no hope of an Aug. 6 primary," he said.
The current filing deadline for U.S. House candidates is noon June 24.
Legislators finally put the redistricting process behind them Thursday with Senate approval of a plan for redrawing the state's four U.S. House districts.
Senators accepted a House proposal after rejecting the same map Wednesday night and forcing renewed negotiations with House members. The 22-17 vote Thursday sent Gov. Bill Graves a plan that had been a year in the making.
Senate leaders kept the roll open nearly six hours so Sens. David Adkins, R-Leawood, and Jay Scott Emler, R-Lindsborg, could vote. Both men were out of town when the vote started and voted no when they returned.
Senators reconsidered the plan after legislative negotiators were unable to reach a compromise. Negotiators met twice Thursday, and House members were unwilling to back off of their chamber's plan.
The proposal would split the city of Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd districts and place Junction City, currently in the 2nd, in the 1st, splitting it from Fort Riley.
Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, led the charge against the map and pushed for negotiators to keep the city and the fort in the 2nd District. Oleen, who represents both areas, said it was unfortunate the Legislature split the two between districts.
Leaders in both chambers had said that Wednesday would be the final day of the session, but the House was unable to pass a tax plan to balance the budget and the Senate couldn't agree on the redistricting plan.
Kansas is required to reapportion congressional districts to account for population shifts during the 1990s, as measured by the 2000 U.S. Census.
The Legislature finished redrawing the state's Senate, House and Board of Education districts earlier in the session. They had planned to be finished with congressional redistricting by early March.
The two chambers passed vastly different congressional maps earlier in the session. Legislative negotiators hit an impasse and the House took a minor liquor bill passed by the Senate, stripped its provisions and put in its congressional plan.
Populations compared for current U.S. House districts and new districts under bill sent to Gov. Bill Graves.
District Current district Deviation Proposed district Deviation
1st 637,670 -34,435 672,091 -14
2nd 641,387 -30,718 672,102 -3
3rd 733,606 61,501 672,124 19
4th 675,755 3,650 672,101 -4
Deviation is the amount above or below the ideal district population of 672,105.
Source: Kansas Legislative Research Department
The Senate rejected a House-passed congressional redistricting plan Wednesday night, setting off fresh efforts to create a map acceptable to both chambers.
The Senate voted 20-16 against the measure and sent it to a conference committee. Senate President Dave Kerr, R-Hutchinson, promptly replaced the Senate's two Republican negotiators.
Sens. Barbara Allen, of Prairie Village, and Lynn Jenkins, of Topeka, replaced Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman David Adkins, of Leawood, and Ed Pugh, of Wamego.
Leaders in both chambers had said Wednesday would be the final day of the session.
If legislators can't find a compromise on how to redraw the districts, the responsibility would fall to a panel of three federal judges. Kansas is required to reapportion its congressional districts to account for population shifts during the 1990s.
The two chambers passed vastly different congressional maps earlier in the session. Legislative negotiators from the two chambers have been unable to reach a compromise on those plans. In addition, Adkins and Pugh refused to disagree with House negotiators, prompting Kerr to change the Senate team.
The resulting stalemate prompted the House to replace a bill related to alcohol with the congressional plan. They passed the redistricting proposal Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Lana Oleen, R-Manhattan, opposed the House plan and asked senators to send the bill to a conference committee to be reconsidered.
Under the House proposal, the city of Lawrence would be split between the 2nd and 3rd districts and Junction City, currently in the 2nd District, would land in the 1st District, splitting it from Fort Riley.
Oleen, who represents Junction City, was adamantly against splitting the city from the fort.
"Junction City is Fort Riley, and Fort Riley is Junction City," she said. "Whatever map we do lasts a long time -- 10 years of representation in Washington, D.C."
Democrats voted against the map because of the split in Lawrence. The city currently is represented by Rep. Dennis Moore, the only Democrat in the state's congressional delegation.
Democrats have pushed throughout the process to keep all of the city in the 3rd District. Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said a conference committee would be another opportunity to try to keep it in the 3rd District.
"I hope that both chambers realize it is unconscionable to split a community of interest," he said.
Both chambers still were in session late into the evening. The committee planned to meet when both chambers recessed.
House congressional redistricting bill is House Sub for SB 152.
A redistricting map designed to protect two Republican congressmen by stretching the district of a third the length of the state stands little chance of becoming law, a key state senator said Monday.
Sen. David Adkins, R-Leawood, chairman of the Legislature's joint committee on redistricting and a candidate for attorney general, said the map approved by the Senate earlier this month was drawn by national Republican officials to protect 2nd District Rep. Jim Ryun and 4th District Rep. Todd Tiahrt.
He said it also was drawn to boost a Republican's chances of defeating Democrat Dennis Moore, in the 3rd District, which is dominated by the Kansas counties in the metropolitan Kansas City area.
"That map, in my view, was drawn by people who don't understand our state or its politics. That map is not acceptable," Adkins said during a meeting with The Topeka Capital-Journal editorial board.
The map, which passed the Senate 21-19 on April 13, makes the big 1st District represented by Republican Jerry Moran even bigger. It extends the district, which traditionally covers all of western Kansas, into an area of southeast Kansas that is now mostly in Ryun's 2nd District, which also includes Topeka.
"I just think it makes no sense to have a district that stretches from St. Francis to Columbus," Adkins said, referring to communities in far the northwestern and southeastern corners of the state, respectively.
Rep. Mike O'Neal, R-Hutchinson, chairman of the House redistricting panel, said the Senate map has little chance of winning approval from House members when they return to wrap-up the 2002 session on Wednesday.
"It really is an ugly map," O'Neal said. "There is very little support for it."
The congressional redistricting map passed by the House makes relatively few changes in the existing four districts. However, it splits Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd districts along Iowa Street.
The Senate-passed map that is the subject of so much controversy puts all of the Lawrence in the 2nd District. Lawrence officials have said repeatedly that they believe the city and Kansas University have more in common with the metropolitan areas in the 3rd District. Still, they also have said they wanted to avoid splitting the city at all costs.
But Adkins said he detected a softening in that position during a meeting Saturday with Lawrence Chamber of Commerce officials.
"I just sense that in light of the new realities, there may be at least a growing preference in Lawrence to at least have some of the city remain in the 3rd District, even if it means splitting the city," he said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, who represents part of rural Douglas County, continues to insist there is no need to split Lawrence.
"It is absolutely unnecessary," he said, contending that a better option would be to split Johnson County.