By Jim Misunas
HAYS — The status of State Senator Allen Schmidt’s 36th District is still under debate. Schmidt is a Democrat from Hays.
The original bill nicknamed “Ad Astra,” from the Senate Redistricting Committee would erase Schmidt’s 36th District seat, resurrecting it in Johnson County.
Under that plan, counties in the existing 36th District would move into the 38th District, which includes Dodge City. The 38th District seat is held by first-term Senator Sen. Garrett Love.
Redistricting committee chairman Tim Owens, R-Overland Park, reportedly said the first-term status of Love, a Republican, and Schmidt, a Democrat, played a role with the proposal to erase the 36th District.
The Senate delayed action on the bill, referring it instead to the Ways and Means Committee where it will remain alive until it can be brought up again this week. Schmidt has offered to step aside and not run for re-election if it saves the district he represents.
Schmidt specifically asked the question: “Mr. President, isn’t redistricting about moving lines to accommodate population changes?”
He received a “yes” answer to that question.
So he continued: “then Mr. President, it would seem logical to move our lines in western Kansas to accommodate the change in population but not collapse our District 36 and move it to Johnson County. We paid that price at the last redistricting and we were not the only rural area in Kansas to lose population.”
Senator Ralph Ostmeyer stood up in support of my comments and the map was not passed that day and the issue was sent back to committee.
Schmidt is working behind the scenes to gather the support against closing the 36th as other maps are being drawn by both sides of the aisle.
“We will take this issue back up when we return in late April and I hope all rural Senators will vote against any collapse of a Western Kansas senate district,” he said.
Much of the debate last week on the Senate floor focused on an amendment that would keep all 40 existing districts. The amendment keeping all of the existing districts failed to advance on a 21-19 vote, despite impassioned pleas against the committee map from Schmidt and Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, who served on the redistricting committee.
Schmidt believes losing another Senator seat would lesson rural Kansas influence in Topeka. The last redistricting, a lost was lost in western Kansas, which Schmidt uses as being west of Salina and rural.
“Every vote in the Senate is important because margins are often small. Even more important is our representation on committees,” Schmidt said. “As committees become more urban and as more senators represent urban areas, we tend to lose influence by both committee representation and committee leadership.”
Schmidt currently serves on six senate committees — Education, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Financial Institutions and Insurance, Rules and Regulations, and Kansas Security. He serves as ranking minority on Financial Institutions and Insurance, which also puts him on the conference committee dealing with those bills that must be reconciled between the House and Senate because of differences.
“As I look at our 40 Senators by the areas represented, it appears that we have about 16 rural districts with some mix into larger urban areas,” Schmidt said. “We do have some urban senators with strong rural ties which does help us work some rural issues. But if we continue to thin out our rural senate representation we will be impacted in our ability to gain the votes and interest in rural issues.”
To contact Schmidt, call (785) 296-7366 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.