Kansas redistricting to focus on Democrat, cut rural clout
TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Ten years of population shifts will boost the clout of the Kansas City and Wichita areas in Kansas politics and fuel a fight over redrawing the district of the only Democrat representing the state in Congress.
The Republican-controlled Legislature must use U.S. Census data released this week to redraw congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts next year to ensure they are as equal in population as possible. Lawmakers on Friday wrapped up 14 statewide town hall meetings on redistricting held over five days.
The 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democrat Sharice Davids, is now overpopulated compared to the other three. Republicans nationally are looking to regain a U.S. House majority, giving state GOP lawmakers incentive to remain united, set new lines and potentially hurt Davids politically.
Meanwhile, the new census figures suggest Johnson County — the state’s most populous — could gain three Kansas House seats and a Kansas Senate seat, while Sedgwick County, home to the state’s largest city of Wichita, could gain a House seat. Their new seats will come from rural areas.
“Legislators have shaded glasses when they look at this, every one of them,” said Tim Shallenburger, a former Kansas House speaker, state treasurer and Kansas GOP chairman. “They’re protecting their own.”
Republicans go into elections next year looking to maintain legislative supermajorities and unseat Davids, while Democrats want to protect her and pick up legislative seats in growing areas. Lawmakers of both parties want to avoid being in a district with another incumbent.
Davids’ congressional district has almost 58,000 too many residents, about 8% more than the ideal population of roughly 734,500. The other three districts are short, with the biggest gap in the sprawling 1st District of western and central Kansas.
Democrats fear GOP legislators will try to divide the Democratic stronghold of Wyandotte County and move part of it from the 3rd District into an expanded 1st District with overwhelmingly Republican rural areas. Some Republicans floated the idea in 2012.
“I know that you all know that manipulating maps is wrong,” Erin Woods, a Leawood resident, said during a town hall meeting in Johnson County on Thursday. “And I believe that you all know that the entirety of Johnson and Wyandotte counties belong together due to their connection to the KC metro area.”
Kansas House Speaker Ron Ryckman Jr., an Olathe Republican, said Friday that lawmakers are “a long ways from drawing maps.”
“Citizen input and the data will be continue to be what drives this process,” Ryckman said in a text to The Associated Press.
Democrats also worry about how legislative districts will be drawn, particularly in urban and suburban areas that Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly carried in her successful 2018 race.
Johnson County is home to six of the state’s 20 largest cities, and all of them grew at least 6% in population over the decade. Gardner, with an increase of 21.8%, and Lenexa, with an increase of 19.8%, were among the state’s 20 fastest-growing cities.
“Urban centers tend to skew a little bit more toward the left, or you know, more accurately, left of center, because it’s Kansas, right?” said Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, of Overland Park, a member of the House redistricting committee. “Will we have these kind of districts that are kind of long and skinny, that are drawn out toward more rural and more outlying areas?”
But there’s also angst among rural Republicans over their shrinking political power.
Kristol King, vice-chair of the Republican Party in Ness County in western Kansas, said lawmakers from Johnson County and Douglas County, home to Lawrence and the main University of Kansas campus, often vote against proposals she supports. This year, she liked her local House member’s bill to prevent county-run nursing homes from restricting visits, and it didn’t pass.
“The people that are here, our representatives, know what’s going on here. And the people in Johnson County have no clue that we’re even here, usually,” King said.
Andy Tsubasa Field is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.