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Brenda Landwehr, Kansas Legislator, Says Redistricting Shouldn't Split Her 'Primarily Caucasian' District

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A Kansas state lawmaker told colleagues Wednesday that she opposed a proposed redistricting map because it would put her "primarily Caucasian" neighborhood in a more diverse district.

Kansas Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), who is seeking a state Senate seat, said the map would improperly combine the north Wichita area where she lives with a neighboring district that includes more Democrats and minorities.

“Gerrymandering an area of Wichita, where primarily Caucasian voters reside, in homes that are upwards of $800,000 and more in price, violates committee rules and federal redistricting guidelines,” Landwehr wrote in testimony to the state redistricting committee, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. "Any map that draws my home into Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau's district is a violation of two communities' interest."

The district where Landwehr lives is 84 percent white and 4.5 percent black, according to The Wichita Eagle. Faust-Goudreau's (D-Wichita) district is 45 percent white and nearly 36 percent black.

Landwehr claims the districts represent separate "communities of interest," one factor in the redistricting process.

According to the Kansas redistricting guidelines, "There should be recognition of similarities of interest. Social, cultural, racial, ethnic, and economic interests common to the population of the area, probable subjects of legislation (generally termed 'communities of interest'), should be considered. While some communities of interest lend themselves more readily than others to being embodied in legislative districts, the Committee will attempt to accommodate interests articulated by residents."

But state Sen. Jean Schodorf (R-Wichita), who currently represents the district and whom Landwehr plans to challenge in a fall primary, said she was surprised by the comment, which she called "highly inappropriate and almost racist."

"It's very inexplicable," Schodorf, who also lives in the area, told The Huffington Post, noting that the district had to be redrawn to include 4,700 fewer people. "I do not know. I was really taken aback by her comments, because the area where we live, there are many economic levels and there are very, very few $800,000 houses. There might be a couple. They're just a pocket in the district. I just found the comment very inappropriate."

Landwehr did not respond to requests for comment.

The real estate website zillow.com estimates that most houses in the neighborhood surrounding the home address listed on Landwehr's state website are worth from $100,000 to $130,000.

The spat over the state's redistricting is part of a larger battle for control between the state's conservative Republican faction, which controls the governorship and the state House of Representatives, and the moderate Republican faction, which controls the state Senate, according to people familiar with Kansas politics. Several moderate Republican senators face conservative challengers in the August primary that includes the race between Landwehr and Schodorf. At issue is a series of conservative initiatives that moderate senators have blocked, including a new state tax code, education reform, an overhaul of the selection process for appeals court judges, state cultural affairs policy and strip club regulation.

Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has told HuffPost that he is not behind the conservative plan and will support the winners of the primary. The moderate senators have blocked several Brownback initiatives.

Many Democrats have also alleged that new proposed congressional maps are gerrymandered in favor of Republican incumbents.

Landwehr did vote Monday against a congressional map that would similarly divide "communities of interest." State Sen. David Haley (D-Kansas City), who is black, thanked Landwehr, who is white, for taking a stand on protecting communities of interest and urged her to vote against a Republican-backed map that would place parts of Kansas City in a district with the heavily rural western part of the state. According to The Topeka Capital-Journal, Landwehr did not vote for the plan.

John Celock and Amanda Terkel contributed reporting to this article.

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