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SPOTLIGHT
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New process is needed

Published on -6/10/2012, 6:07 PM

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Ever wonder what would happen if state lawmakers weren't in charge of redistricting? Kansans got their first glimpse last week as a three-judge panel drew new boundaries for congressional seats, state House and Senate districts, as well as the state Board of Education.

The first difference noted is the amount of time spent creating districts. Free from political considerations, the judges were able to accomplish in less than two weeks what the Legislature couldn't do in more than a year's time.

Second, and equally noteworthy, is the new boundaries were set without regard for incumbency, seniority or party. Legislative or congressional deals already made or in the works did not affect the judges' work. Instead, population shifts were accounted for as were communities of interest.

In short, the new districts reflect what happens when politics are removed from the decision-making: Upheaval.

"This thing is nothing less than a major restructuring of Kansas politics," said Rep. Don Hineman, R-Dighton.

Four sitting state senators are guaranteed to lose their jobs. So are 21 state representatives and one state board of education member. In each of those cases, districts were redrawn to include multiple incumbents.

Similarly, there are four Senate and 25 House districts with no incumbents.

Looking at Congress, all four U.S. representatives have slightly different districts but at least they all reside within them. How Manhattan's inclusion in the First District will play out regarding the planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in that city is a wild card. But at least the Big First doesn't stretch all the way to Missouri.

Two of the more interesting combined state districts are here in northwest Kansas. The 36th Senate District has moved to the east, leaving incumbent Sen. Allen Schmidt, D-Hays, residing in the 40th District. That's currently Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer's district, which now picks up Hays. Likewise, the 120th House District now includes both Rep. Ward Cassidy, R-St. Francis, as well as Rep. Rick Billinger, R-Goodland.

Similar situations now exist throughout the state. And Monday is the filing deadline.

"Bottom line, we got what we asked for," Cassidy said.

We'd have to agree. Kansans everywhere will have to live with the ramifications of a state Legislature that couldn't complete its work. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

So we have to ensure the same abdication of duty doesn't take place in 10 years, when redistricting next occurs. If ever proof was lacking Kansas needs an independent panel drawing its political boundaries, we now have it. State legislators cannot be counted on to fulfill a constitutional requirement. It is time to take the responsibility out of their hands.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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