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GOP redistricting plan in Kansas splits Democrat's Congressional district

Kansas-Legislature.jpg
Kansas News Service

Republican legislators in Kansas are pursuing a redistricting proposal that would remove Democratic voters from the Kansas-City area district currently held by the state’s only Democratic member of Congress.

TOPEKA — Republican legislators in Kansas are pursuing a redistricting proposal that would remove Democratic voters from the Kansas-City area swing district currently held by the state’s only Democratic member of Congress.

The plan unveiled Tuesday also would move Lawrence, home to the main campus of the University of Kansas, into the sprawling and largely rural district covering western and central Kansas. The city is known for its liberal politics, while former President Donald Trump carried many western Kansas counties with more than 80% of the vote in 2020.

The debate in Kansas comes with Republicans hoping to regain a U.S. House majority in this year's mid-term elections. Democrats fear that new political boundaries will make it harder for Democratic U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection in Kansas' 3rd District and are focused on keeping most of Johnson and Wyandotte counties together. Wyandotte County is among a few Democratic strongholds in Republican-leaning Kansas.

The proposal was introduced during separate meetings of the state House and Senate redistricting committees, first by House committee Chair Chris Croft, an Overland Park Republican, then by Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican. Both dismissed the idea that politics were behind the division of the Kansas City area, though Davids would lose the northern half of Wyandotte County and its Democratic neighborhoods and pick up territory in three GOP-leaning counties.

“A lot of it’s population driven,” Croft said after the House committee's meeting. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it.”

Davids' district is almost 58,000 residents over the ideal district population of about 734,000. The other three districts are underpopulated, with the already-sprawling 1st District of western and central Kansas needing to pick up close to 34,000 people for all four districts to be as equal in population as possible.

Masterson said because of population growth in the Kansas City area, Davids' district must lose either part of Johnson or part of Wyandotte County. He also argued that Davids and the state's three GOP congressmen still would be reelected with the new lines.

“We're just interested in fairness,” he said.

Democrats are skeptical that GOP proposals on congressional redistricting aren’t driven by a desire to wound Davids politically. Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, and Democratic state Rep. Tom Burroughs, of Kansas City, unveiled their own proposals. Both keep all of Wyandotte County in Davids' district while splitting off western and southern Johnson County.

LGBTQ-rights advocates also are watching redistricting closely because Davids is the first and only LGBTQ person to represent Kansas in Congress.

“The LGBTQ community deserves the same seat at the table as everybody else in this country,” said Tom Witt, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Kansas. “We're going to fight to preserve it.”

And Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who can veto redistricting measures, told reporters last week: “What should happen is that they should shrink it in a way that maintains that community interest there in the KC metro area.”

Top Republicans in the GOP-controlled Legislature hope to avoid the meltdown that occurred in 2012, the last time lawmakers faced redrawing political boundaries to account for shifts in population. A bitter fight over legislative districts between conservative and moderate Republicans kept any proposal from passing — and three federal judges drew all the lines.

The plan outlined by Masterson and Croft would put northern Wyandotte County into a redrawn 2nd District with Topeka and most of southeast Kansas. Lawrence would be at the ending eastern tip of the 1st.

A second GOP proposal came from Republican Rep. Kyle Hoffman, of Coldwater, and it would move all of Wyandotte County into a 1st District that would stretch from the Colorado to the Missouri border in the north part of the state. He said it was based on a proposal that won House approval in 2012.

“I'm not really introducing it because I'm in love with it,” Hoffman said. “It's more of a map to just give us an idea and a baseline.”