Maps draw lines within Kansas GOP

By JOHN HANNA

Associated Press

TOPEKA -- Feuding Republican factions in the Kansas Legislature pursued rival plans Thursday for redrawing state Senate districts, as chances increased the dispute will be left to the courts and the state will be forced to postpone its summer primary election.

The House approved a Senate redistricting plan favored by GOP conservatives. The 67-50 vote sent the bill to the Senate, but it's not likely to pass there because many legislators believe it is designed to help conservatives oust the Senate's moderate GOP leaders in this year's elections.

Meanwhile, the Senate Reapportionment Committee approved three new plans for adjusting their chamber's 40 districts to account for population shifts during the past decade. Each proposal offers a different alternative for eliminating a district in rural Kansas and adding one in Johnson County, the state's most populous county.

But each of the Senate's new plans draws at least three conservative challengers out of the districts of the moderate incumbents they'd planned to challenge in GOP primaries. Critics said it's designed to keep the Senate's current leaders in power -- so moderates can impede conservative Republican Gov. Sam Brownback's agenda.

"I would respectfully suggest that we not wait for the Senate to pass us yet another fatally, incredibly flawed map that perpetuates this arrogance of entitlement to districts at the expense of anybody who dares to challenge them," O'Neal said during the House's debate on its plan.

The impasse also has blocked passage of proposals to redraw state House, State Board of Education and congressional districts. Kansas is among a handful of states where legislators haven't finished redrawing their own districts, and it is the only state where lawmakers have failed to approve a new congressional map, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Because no redistricting plan became law by Thursday, the state's candidate filing deadline automatically was postponed from June 1 to June 11.

Federal law gives Kansas until June 23 to distribute ballots to military personnel overseas if the state has its primary Aug. 7 as planned. But that requires legislative debates and court reviews of plans to be finished by mid-June.

The impasse also seemed certain to extend the Legislature's session past its 90th scheduled day today because the Senate hasn't set a debate on its three new plans. Lawmakers conceded they might not approve any maps, leaving new boundaries to the state Supreme Court or judges in a pending federal lawsuit over the Legislature's failure so far to finish the work.

Senate Reapportionment Committee Chairman Tim Owens, a moderate Overland Park Republican targeted by conservatives, said moderates trust the courts more than the House.

"That gets into the base issue of conservatives wanting to take control of the Senate," Owens said. "Why would moderates not want to retain their positions?"

Last week, the Senate narrowly approved a bipartisan plan for redrawing members' districts. Conservatives argued that under it, most districts would deviate too much from the ideal population of about 71,000 residents.

They also noted it would break up a concentration of Hispanic voters in southwestern Kansas in eliminating a western Kansas district.

Owens and other GOP moderates said the House plan -- in expanding rural districts but not eliminating one -- ignores Johnson County, where the population grew by almost 21 percent, or by more than 93,000 residents, from 2000 to 2010, according to the U.S. Census.

But Owens said the real issue is who controls the Senate.

"If they have drawn the battle lines, they can't expect the other side not to respond accordingly," he said. "We're not going to lay down."

Democrats and GOP moderates in the House criticized their chamber's break with a decades-old tradition dictating each chamber leaves the other to draw its own members' districts.

But O'Neal said: "We're kind of in unique times due to the kind of the dysfunctional nature of the conflict that appears in the Senate."