GOP map likely to hinder lone Democrat clears Kansas Senate

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republicans used their supermajority Friday to win Kansas Senate approval for a redistricting plan that likely would make it harder for the state’s only Democrat in Congress to win reelection this year.

The nearly four-hour debate ahead of the Senate’s 26-9 vote previewed the arguments that attorneys for both parties may use during an expected court challenge over any new lines. The bill goes next to the House, where top Republicans are backing an almost identical plan.

Both proposals would equalize the population among the state’s four congressional districts by carving thousands of Democratic voters out of the Kansas City-area district held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids. Both also would put Lawrence, known for its liberal politics and home to the main University of Kansas campus, at the far eastern edge of an expanded central and western Kansas district, rather than keeping it in an eastern Kansas district.

States must redraw their districts every 10 years to keep them as close to each other in population as possible amid shifting populations. In 2012, lawmakers couldn’t agree on any maps, and three federal judges drew the lines. But even if Republicans get their preferred plan through the House and past Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s possible veto, Democrats are likely to sue.

That means a lot of Friday’s debate was about building a record for judges to review later. Democrats and conservative Republican Sen. Dennis Pyle, of Hiawatha, offered unsuccessful alternatives with that in mind.

“One of the main reasons for offering these maps is to get them in the record,” Pyle said. “The court will likely refer back to some of these maps because 10 years ago, that is what they did.”

The debate in Kansas comes with the GOP hoping to regain a U.S. House majority in this year’s elections. Top Republican lawmakers in Kansas want to remove the northern part of Wyandotte County — one of the state’s few Democratic strongholds — from Davids’ district to address its surplus of nearly 58,000 residents after a decade of growth.

Davids won two-thirds of the Wyandotte County vote in 2020 and less than 52% in neighboring Johnson County, the state’s most populous county. In the other three, far more rural counties GOP lawmakers plan to include in her new district, former President Donald Trump received 71% of the vote.

“It is clearly drawn for partisan gain,” said Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat.

Senate President Ty Masterson rejected that idea, arguing that Davids still will win the redrawn district based on the voting in the 2020 presidential election, in which Trump lost Johnson County.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that partisan gerrymandering is a political issue and not a concern for federal courts. That left Kansas lawmakers making arguments aimed at persuading judges to draw different lines. They acknowledged that they’ve been conferring with lawyers.

For example, Democrats noted that in Davids’ new district, Black and Hispanic voters would be less of the population, diluting their ability to elect a representative like Davids, the state’s first and only Native American and LGBTQ member of Congress. Republicans countered by noting that the neighboring eastern Kansas district would gain minority residents.


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John Hanna
John Hanna
Kansas government and politics reporter