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Originally published June 8, 2012 at 10:05 a.m., updated June 8, 2012 at 3:11 p.m.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. A three-judge federal panel has published its opinion redrawing Kansas political boundaries.
"As judges, we do not tread unreservedly into this political thicket," the judges wrote.
But the maps the judges drew assure a political maelstrom that could upset Kansas electoral politics as perhaps never before. In the House, where lawmakers worked hard to avoid putting any incumbents together, the judges made lines that put 48 incumbents in districts with more than one incumbent and created 25 districts with no incumbent, according to an early tally by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.
Two days to file
With filing deadlines fast approaching, the decision also means the political parties have little time to find candidates for the open seats left by the new maps.
"We have two days to fill 25 open seats, and it didn't have to be this way," said Haley Pollock, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence.
Davis said the court had to settle redistricting because Gov. Sam Brownback's efforts to push moderate Republicans out of the Senate created the impasse that prevented the Legislature from redrawing the districts. Brownback is a conservative Republican.
"There were numerous red flags throughout the session that Gov. Brownback’s obsession with ousting members of his own political party would drive Kansas government into a state of chaos," Davis said.
The judges noted the political tensions in their opinion but didn't directly blame the governor.
"While legislators publicly demurred that they had done the best they could, the impasse resulted from a bitter ideological feud – largely over new Senate districts. The feud primarily pitted GOP moderates against their more conservative GOP colleagues. Failing consensus, the process degenerated into blatant efforts to gerrymander various districts for ideological political advantage," the judges wrote.
Incumbents put together
The maps could create several interesting matchups between incumbents, and not just between conservative and moderate Republicans. Rep. Nile Dillmore, a Wichita Democrat, is now in the same district as Rep. Brenda Landwehr, the Wichita Republican who heads the House Health and Human Services Committee. Landwehr, a conservative, had planned to challenge moderate Republican Sen. Jean Schodorf of Wichita. But the judges' map doesn't have Landwehr and Schodorf facing off.
"The map doesn't put us in the same district, but I'm still trying to figure out what I'm going to do," Landwehr said today.
House Majority Leader Arlen Siegfried, an Olathe Republican, now is in the same district with fellow Republican Rep. Mike Kiegerl.
The new 76th House District has three incumbent Republicans: Reps. Peggy Mast of Emporia, Bill Otto of LeRoy and William Prescott of Osage City. The new 53rd House District in Topeka puts together Democratic Rep. Annie Tietze and Republican Reps. Mike Burgess and Lana Gordon. Two longtime Republican House members, Reps. Sharon Schwartz of Washington and Clay Aurand of Belleville, are in the new 106th District.
The decision also puts Lawrence and Douglas County entirely in the 2nd Congressional District. Previously, the city and county were divided between the 2nd and 3rd Districts. It also would keep Leavenworth County and the military post there in the 2nd District, but shift Riley County and Fort Riley into the 1st District. Geary and Pottawatomie counties also were redrawn into the 1st District.
All of Johnson and Wyandotte counties remain in the 3rd District, which grows to also include Louisburg and part of northern Miami County.
The judge's Senate map adds a district in Johnson County and would essentially consolidate two districts in western Kansas, putting incumbent Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, a Grinnell Republican, in the same district with Sen. Allen Schmidt, a Hays Democrat. Republican Sens. Pat Apple of Louisburg and Ray Merrick of Stilwell both are in the 37th District. Republican Sens. Dwayne Umbarger of Thayer and Jeff King of Independence both occupy the new 15th District.
Four of the 40 Senate districts have no incumbent.
The judges acknowledged their work likely wouldn't please everyone.
"On short notice, with elections pending on the immediate horizon, we have acted solely to remedy a legislative default," the panel wrote in its opinion.
Legislators began their efforts to redraw districts in 2011 but failed to reach agreement, shifting the responsibility to the court.
Lawmakers are obliged to redraw the political boundaries every 10 years to reflect changes in population.
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