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Judges’ redistricting ruling resets Kansas landscape

POSTED June 9, 2012 5:01 p.m.
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TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas lawmakers scrambled Friday to adjust to a new political landscape after three federal judges redrew the state's voting districts and created more than two dozen open legislative seats and potential incumbent-on-incumbent matchups.
The judges released maps Thursday night that imposed new boundaries for congressional, state House, state Senate and State Board of Education districts because the Legislature failed to do so. The maps needed to be redrawn to account for population shifts over the last decade, but a bitter feud among Republicans blocked lawmakers' proposals, so a lawsuit was filed that forced the judges to step in.
In their 206-page order, the judges acknowledged that they were "pushing a re-set button" for legislative districts and imposing dramatically different boundaries — and the results stunned lawmakers.
The judges created four open Senate seats and 25 open House seats, while pairing up dozens of other legislators in districts that

now have two incumbents each. Two House districts even have three incumbents each.
“You couldn’t be more disruptive if you tried,” said House Speaker Mike O’Neal, a conservative Republican from Hutchinson. “Some of these boundary lines look like they had to go out of their way to put two incumbents in the same district.”
The filing deadline to run for office is noon Monday, so Republican and Democratic party officials are facing a busy weekend of finding candidates for open seats. And some legislators will be left with doubtful political futures.
Lawmakers weren’t sure whether the political chaos would help Democrats or either side of the feuding Republicans, who are split between moderates and conservatives.
“This is probably the most disruptive change in legislative districts that the state has ever seen,” said Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican who was the lawsuit’s initial defendant because his office oversees elections.
The order can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but neither Kobach nor Robyn Renee Essex, the GOP precinct committee member from Olathe who filed the lawsuit, expected to do so. Essex’s attorney, Brent Haden, said Essex wanted constitutional maps in place for the elections was “prepared to move forward.”
Kobach said county elections officials still expect to meet all deadlines ahead of the Aug. 7 primary election, including one June 23 for distributing ballots to military personnel overseas.
The judges’ order denied two key requests from Gov. Sam Brownback. The conservative Republican had wanted a single Senate district for Leavenworth County and to keep Manhattan, home to Kansas State University and the site of a planned federal biosecurity lab, in a congressional district with other eastern Kansas communities. Instead, the judges split the county and put Manhattan in a district with western and central Kansas.
“It’s now in the hands of the people,” Brownback said in a statement, his only response to the redrawn maps.
The possible scramble for candidates was evident when Sen. John Vratil, a Leawood Republican and moderate GOP leader, announced Friday that he wouldn’t seek re-election and quickly endorsed Rep. Pat Colloton, another moderate Leawood Republican, as his successor. Colloton had been drawn into a House district with another representative.
“It’s a complete political reset,” said Rep. Scott Schwab, a conservative Olathe Republican.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Kansas was the only state where legislators failed to produce a congressional redistricting plan.
The stalemate was rooted in a bitter dispute among majority Republicans over state Senate districts, as the two GOP factions expected to fight for control of the chamber as saw various maps as helping or hurting their causes.
“On short notice, with elections pending on the immediate horizon, we have acted solely to remedy a legislative default,” the judges wrote.
The results for state House districts were most unnerving to lawmakers, because the House had approved a bipartisan plan for new lines with widespread support that then became tangled in the dispute over Senate districts. The judges said they weren’t obligated to defer to any plan because nothing cleared the Legislature.
House leaders in both parties had expected the judges to take the plan approved by the chamber and tinker with it to lower population differences among districts. Instead, the judges drafted their own map, placing a low priority on protecting incumbents.
Twenty-one of the 125 House districts now have two incumbents. In most, the pairings potentially pit a Republican against another Republican. The two districts with three incumbents each are in Topeka and east-central Kansas.
“You look at all the maps, and they basically rejected all the political considerations,” said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat.
The results for the Senate’s 40 districts appeared less dramatic, though legislators were still assessing them Friday. The judges added a new district in fast-growing Johnson County, home to Kansas City suburbs, creating one with no incumbent. In shifting lines elsewhere, they created three rural districts with no incumbent.
The changes put three pairs of Republican incumbents in eastern Kansas districts and created a potential Democrat-Republican matchup in northwest Kansas.


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