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Kan. redistricting trial nears completion

5/30/2012

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) -- Attorneys were expected to present their final witnesses and give closing arguments Wednesday in the final day of a federal trial seeking to compel judges to draw new Kansas political maps.

The first day of the trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kan., was filled with questions from attorneys about the criteria legislators used as they attempted unsuccessfully during the 2012 legislative session to redraw the state's four U.S. House districts, 125 state House, 40 Senate and 10 State Board of Education seats.

Most of the questions focused on whether legislators considered keeping communities of interest together, how much proposed districts strayed from the ideal population and who was trying to influence the process.

"I think we did the best we could," said Sen. Jeff King, an Independence Republican.

The maps became the judges' responsibility after the Legislature could not settle a feud among Republicans over the districts' boundaries. The judges will consider the testimony and proposed maps submitted by attorneys, as well as volumes of evidence filed over the past week to draw the new boundaries.

The Legislature adjourned May 20 without approving new maps. The impasse was caused by a bitter feud among Republicans over new Senate districts and whether they're drawn to help GOP moderates keep control of the chamber and check conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley said variations of the maps before the judges, including those that failed to get enough votes in the Senate, were efforts to gerrymander Democrats and moderate Republicans -- viewed as impediments to Brownback's agenda -- out of office by placing them in dramatically altered districts.

"It was a war between the conservative Republicans and moderate Republicans," said Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, adding that House GOP leadership and governor were "in lockstep" with each other to get favorable maps.

King's testimony late Tuesday confirmed that Brownback's office was working behind the scenes on maps.

King said Brownback and Senate Majority Leader Jay Emler asked King and others to work with the governor's staff to draw new maps. One of those maps is similar to one offered to three federal judges to consider. King said he worked with Peter Northcott, a staff member in Brownback's office to develop a Senate map as an alternative to plans that failed to gain House support after clearing the Senate with 21 votes.

"Mr. Northcott had it on his computer using the Maptitude software," King said, the same software program used by the Kansas Legislative Research Department.

King and Sen. Tim Owens, an Overland Park Republican and chairman of the Senate's redistricting committee, both said map drawing was an imperfect process but that they worked to build maps with a consensus.

"No matter what map we draw, there was going to be objections to something," Owens said.

The trial comes less than two weeks before the state's candidate filing deadline. The three judges are allowing 29 people to participate in the case, potentially call witnesses and submit redistricting proposals.

Federal and state courts in Kansas have settled redistricting disputes before, but they've started with maps approved by legislators. Three-judge federal court panels have reviewed congressional maps, while the state Supreme Court has considered legislative and Board of Education maps.

Robyn Renee Essex, a Republican precinct committee member from Olathe, filed the lawsuit earlier this month against Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the state's chief elections official.

However, the judges are allowing 27 other people to participate including some lawmakers involved in the Legislature's impasse.

Brownback issued a statement Tuesday saying none of the maps legislators considered during the session was constitutional and urged the federal judges to seek a solution that is held to a higher standard. He said the new maps should uphold the principle of "one person, one vote" and have as little deviation as possible.