Redistricting battle heats up again with introduction of Kansas Senate maps

Topeka would get a fourth seat in the Kansas Senate under Republican-drafted maps unveiled Thursday, among a series of major changes for voters in northeast Kansas.

The new seat, which encompasses nearly all of downtown Topeka and part of Douglas County along Interstate 70, will heavily favor the Democrats. The three senators who currently represent Shawnee County will still do so, but will take other parts of eastern Kansas counties to consolidate their own districts.

State Congress Cards are in legal purgatory, with a Wyandotte County judge set to hear a challenge to their admissibility under the Kansas Constitution later this month.

But as heated as the debate over these districts is, legislative redistricting is a whole new ballgame. Lawmakers can be fiercely territorial on their turf, and maps can offer a chance to remake the Statehouse landscape in new and often consequential ways.

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Republicans argue the map preserves the current 29-11 chamber split, with Democrats likely to retain firm control of most, if not all, of their seats under the new lines.

“It’s no secret that you’re trying to strengthen your caucus,” said Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson and chairman of the Senate redistricting committee. “But at the same time, Democrats have a lot to like about this map.”

But the GOP map, dubbed “Liberty 2,” will also make it harder for Democrats to win three seats to break the current Republican supermajority, as it makes seats in Wichita and suburban Johnson County that were previously winnable for more conservative Democrats.

Brian Amos, professor of political science at Wichita State University, said the new Topeka District also serves this purpose.

“I see the advantage of being represented by a member of your party,” he said. “So the people who live there might like the fact that they’re represented by a Democrat. But at the same time, it’s at the expense of breaking a supermajority in the state Senate. And I think the most Democrats would rather get rid of the anti-veto majority instead.”

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New seat opens up opportunities for Democrats — controversially

A set of Kansas Senate maps drafted by Republicans, released Thursday, would create a fourth seat representing Topeka, one that favors the Democrats.

Adding a new seat in Topeka will give Democrats a chance to smash the slate of all GOP lawmakers now representing Shawnee County, after former Democratic leader Anthony Hensley lost to Sen. Rick Kloos, R -Berryton, in an upheaval in 2020.

The new districts would not be in play until 2024, when all 40 Senate seats are up for grabs.

Nevertheless, the decision to add a fourth district is interesting, because Shawnee County maintained its population after the 2020 census, other counties in the region – Wabaunsee, Osage, Jackson and Jefferson – losing population.

Kloos District will move east to include more of Douglas County, as well as most of Franklin County. Its seat will continue to include all of Osage County.

O’Shea, meanwhile, will still represent most of northern Shawnee County, including part of Topeka, as well as parts of Pottawatomie and Jefferson counties. And Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, who represents part of Southwest Topeka, will continue to represent that area, as well as all of Wabaunsee County.

But Davis Hammet, director of Loud Light, a civic engagement group, argued that the new Senate precinct in downtown Topeka looked like “a weasel” and argued that it further diminished voting power. residents.

He argued lawmakers should have mirrored what they did in Lawrence, with much of the city concentrated in a single district. Shawnee County, meanwhile, Hammet said, was “sliced ​​and diced.”

“The fact that Shawnee County will again not have a senator who actually represents Shawnee County is frustrating,” he said. “And I think that should be frustrating for people in Shawnee County.”

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Keith Tatum, chairman of the Shawnee County Democratic Party, agreed with that sentiment, saying the maps poorly respected Topeka as a community of interest or a common group of individuals bound by a common trait.

“I think the Liberty card, overall, probably does more harm to Topeka as a community of interest than any benefit it might bring,” he said.

Wilborn defended the move, saying it was also a victory for Lawrence residents, ensuring they remained represented by an urban legislator. He also pointed out that the current maps, drawn by a panel of three federal judges 10 years ago, also divide Topeka.

“It’s not really much more cut out than it was before,” he said. “The courts blocked Topeka and everything we did there started to strengthen certain districts. And when you strengthen a red district, you usually end up strengthening a blue district.”

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Johnson County for a seat; the holders will face off in two races

The most striking change is the requirement that a district be moved out of western Kansas and moved to Johnson County, where much of the state’s population growth is concentrated.

The new district will include South Overland Park and East Olathe and is expected to favor Republicans.

The move places two Republican senators, Sen. Rick Wilborn, R-McPherson, and Sen. Michael Fagg, R-El Dorado, in the same district. The move points to Wilborn’s potential retirement in 2024, although he declined to speculate on what his next steps might be.

Two other sitting senators have been lured into the same district: Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, and Sen. Beverly Gossage, R-Eudora.

While Democrats will have to worry about this race and potentially another Senate seat in Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties, overall their current membership appears to have their districts bolstered – at the expense of being able to run in races. elsewhere.

Amos, the Wichita State professor, noted that this could dampen voter interest, with candidates potentially campaigning less actively, with less awareness of relevant statewide issues and lower voter turnout.

“That can probably lead to a drop in engagement in the process,” he said.

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Democratic map keeps three Shawnee County lawmakers

Meanwhile, a map proposed by Senate Democrats would preserve the Kansas Senate’s current arrangement in Shawnee County, dividing downtown Topeka evenly between Kloos and Dietrich.

The map would also move Wilborn District to Johnson County, although in their version the district would consist almost entirely of Olathe.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, said the Democratic maps are sticking to self-imposed guidelines approved by the Legislature, a common criticism of Congressional maps, and also argued that they preserved function where possible.

“While I sometimes disagree with my colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — I know that each of them works tirelessly to represent the communities that sent them to Topeka,” she said. “We used these districts as a model for Kansas voters to re-elect their incumbent senator if they believe they are still the right person for the job.

Tatum, chairman of the Shawnee County Democrats, said he felt the Democratic card was the preferable option in how it treated the city and county.

“That would probably be the least drastic option available,” he said.

Andrew Bahl is a senior reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal. He can be reached at [email protected] or by phone at 443-979-6100.

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