GOP undoes veto of Kansas map hurting Democrat; courts next

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican legislators in Kansas on Wednesday overrode the Democratic governor’s veto of a redistricting plan that politically hurts the state’s only Democrat in Congress, likely plunging Kansas into a national legal brawl amid the contest for control of the U.S. House.

Prominent Democratic attorney Marc Elias, who has pursued lawsuits in states including Georgia, North Carolina and Ohio, tweeted: “Kansas will be sued.”

The 85-37 vote in the Kansas House overturned Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a map that splits the state’s side of the Kansas City area between two districts, making it harder for U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection this year. Davids is the state’s first openly gay and Native American woman in Congress.

The GOP map also moves the liberal northeast Kansas enclave of Lawrence — home to the main University of Kansas campus — into a district with conservative central and western Kansas communities some six hours away by car.

The Senate overrode Kelly’s veto Tuesday, so the new lines will become law by Feb. 17. Republican majorities in both chambers are larger than the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

“Who is surprised the GOP has targeted Kansas’ only female member of Congress?” Democratic Rep. Vic Miller, of Topeka, said in explaining his no vote. “Who is surprised the GOP has targeted the only person of color to represent Kansas in Congress in almost 100 years?”

While some conservatives in neighboring Missouri have acknowledged a desire to use redistricting to help Republicans pick up congressional seats, Kansas Republicans are far more guarded. They have said repeatedly that their plan is driven by court mandates to make all four districts as equal in population as possible.

The state’s side of the Kansas City area has too many residents for a single congressional district. Republicans’ choice was to split Kansas City, Kansas, while leaving wealthier and whiter suburbs to the south in one district. GOP lawmakers noted that those southern suburbs have never been divided, while Kansas City, Kansas, was split between two districts from the mid-1960s into the early 1980s.

“We did it in a very fair and open manner,” said state Rep. Chris Croft, a Republican from the suburbs.

Federal judges have reviewed changes in Kansas’ congressional district boundaries for decades and drew them in 2012, when the Republican-controlled Legislature couldn’t pass any plan. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that complaints about partisan gerrymandering are political matters and not for the federal courts to settle, but Democrats will argue that the map is unacceptable for other reasons, including how it reduces the number of Black and Hispanic voters in Davids’ district.

Some Democrats also want to get the congressional map before the Kansas Supreme Court, which traditionally hasn’t dealt with one. Their hope would be a ruling that the state Constitution limits or prohibits political gerrymandering.

The new law takes from Davids parts of the northern Kansas City area where she performs the best and moves them into the neighboring 2nd District. The map then shifts Lawrence from the neighboring 2nd into the 1st District of western and central Kansas.

GOP leaders repeatedly argued that Davids would have won reelection had the new lines been in place in 2020.

“If the numbers show that she would still win that map, does it really target her?” said House Majority Leader Dan Hawkins, a Wichita Republican.

Democrats and Kansas City-area officials argued that courts won’t accept the new redistricting law because it reduces the clout of minority voters in Davids’ district.

“People of color are going to be asking themselves, ‘When are they coming for my community?’” said Rep. Susan Ruiz, a suburban Kansas City-area Democrat.

And Equality Kansas, the state’s leading LGBTQ rights group, said that because of the changes to Davids’ district, the GOP plan is “another in a long history of attacks” on the state’s LGBTQ community.

The Republican map increases the percentages of Black and Hispanic voters in the 2nd District in eastern Kansas, and GOP lawmakers argue that gives them more clout there.

Republican state Rep. Patrick Penn, of Wichita, said having two representatives in Congress represent significant minority communities will make it more likely, not less likely, that their concerns will be heard. He decried Democrats’ allegations of improper racial gerrymandering, particularly from white Democrats.

“As a Black conservative, I’ve never been called racist so many times — during Black History Month, on Black Legislative Day in this Capitol,” Penn said.


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John Hanna
John Hanna
Kansas government and politics reporter