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Senators lobby to preserve districts




TOPEKA -- Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer was up early Monday, greeting fellow senators as they arrived at their offices in the Capitol.

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TOPEKA -- Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer was up early Monday, greeting fellow senators as they arrived at their offices in the Capitol.

Sen. Allen Schmidt, meanwhile, was anticipating the day's Democratic caucus, hoping to learn why fellow Democrats supported a bill collapsing his district.

Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, and Schmidt, D-Hays, were focusing on the same issue, that of redrawing the state's Senate districts. More specifically, they were struggling to prevent western Kansas from losing a Senate seat, watching as it is boxed up and sent to Johnson County.

A month has passed since the Senate last visited the redistricting issue, and the only significant change in the failed plan entails saving Schmidt's 36th District in name only, instead shipping Sen. Garrett Love's district to Johnson County.

In the previous incarnation of the bill, the 36th District was collapsed with the 38th surviving.

In its current form, the 36th District would stretch from Trego and Ellis counties on the north, meandering down to the Oklahoma border. All of Hays would be included, along with parts of Dodge City and Liberal.

Either way, the combined districts would pit Schmidt and Love -- both in their first term -- against each other.

The Senate was scheduled to take up the issue today, but Ostmeyer figures the measure will have the 21 votes necessary for it to pass.

He thinks it will be dead-on-arrival in House chambers, however.

"I think they'll kill it and then they're going to draw up their own plan and it won't go anywhere in the Senate," Ostmeyer said. "Then we'll have a court case."

That won't bode well for rural areas, he said, as the courts will redraw boundaries as close as possible, stripping away some of the flexibility he said would let all 40 districts survive.

Ostmeyer no longer is relying on a veto from Gov. Sam Brownback, who, during a recent meeting with legislative leaders, suggested cutting the 36th District as well as expanding Ostmeyer's 40th District.

For Schmidt, it's a huge blow as Democrats on the redistricting committee didn't even rise to object to the bill when it passed out Friday afternoon.

"They've thrown Allen under the bus," Ostmeyer said.

Just as he did a month ago, Schmidt is planning to raise objections to the plan on the Senate floor.

Likely, Ostmeyer will as well, also objecting to the sheer size of his district, which, under the plan, would include all of 20 counties and half of another. It would stretch from Hamilton County in southwest Kansas all the way to Jewell County in north-central Kansas.

It's 292 miles from Syracuse to Mankato, nearly a 6-hour drive.

Ostmeyer was one of three voting against the proposal in Friday's committee hearing.

He said he "got upset when a couple senators started grinning when I started talking."

While he didn't want to identify them, he said he told them there wasn't anything funny about the matter.